New Delhi, Dec 14 : The Supreme Court on Tuesday, while allowing the Ministry of Defence’s plea to widen roads on three highways connected with Chardham project, set up an “Oversight Committee” chaired by a former Supreme Court judge to ensure implementation of the High-Powered Committee (HPC) recommendations to fill gaps in best practices and address environmental issues associated with the project.
A bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant, and Vikram Nath said: “In order to ensure implementation of these recommendations, we also set up an ‘Oversight Committee’, which shall report directly to this Court. This Committee shall be chaired by Justice Arjan Kumar Sikri, former judge of this court.”
“What is at stake in this project is also the health of the environment, and its effects on all individuals who inhabit the area,” it said.
In order to enable the Chairperson to receive technical assistance, he will be aided by a representative of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to be nominated by the Director, and a representative of the Forest Research Institute, deemed to be University, Dehradun to be nominated by its Director General.
The top court said the objective of this Committee is not to undertake an environmental analysis of the project afresh but to assess the implementation of the recommendations already provided by the HPC.
The bench said a formal notification in terms of these directions should be issued by the government within two weeks. “Within four weeks thereafter, MoRTH (Ministry of Road Transport and Highways) and MoD (Ministry of Defence) shall place before the Committee the steps taken by them to adhere to the HPC’s recommendations, along with a projected timeline for complying with the remaining recommendations. Monthly reports of this nature shall be placed before the Oversight Committee by the MoRTH and MoD,” it added.
The top court said the Committee will report on the progress undertaken to it every four months and in case of any issues with the implementation of the recommendations, the Chairperson would be at liberty to approach it.
It also clarified that the HPC shall continue with its work on overseeing the implementation of its recommendations for the project, except for the national highways from Rishikesh to Mana, Rishikesh to Gangotri, and Tanakpur to Pithoragarh, which shall now fall under the purview of the Oversight Committee.
The bench emphasised that making the project environmentally compliant should not be seen as a “checkbox” to be obtained on the path to development, but rather as the path to sustained development itself.
The bench said the principle of sustainable development is deep-rooted in the jurisprudence of Indian environmental law and it incorporates two related ideas – development which not only ensures equity between the present and the future generations, but also development which ensures equity between different sections of society at present.
“In line with the HPC’s recommendations, there has to be an assessment of the nature of the problem by obtaining actual data through relevant studies for all individual projects. Specific mitigation measures then should be implemented for all projects, keeping in mind their unique concerns,” it noted.
In August 2019, the top court had ordered the constitution of the HPC to assess the impact of the Chardham project on the Himalayan region. In July 2020, the HPC delivered a report, where a majority of the members recommended the adoption of the DL-PS standard as road-width for the project. However, in September 2020, the top court accepted the HPC’s report and ordered that road width shall not exceed 5.5 metres as prescribed in the 2018 circular, which was HPC’s minority view.
On Tuesday, the top court, in its verdict, agreed with the majority view of the HPC.