Environmental activists term SC judgment on Chardham roads as ‘unfortunate’

“It will also jeopardize national security because the border would be approached through disaster prone and disastrous excessively wide roads,” she warned.
chardham yatra

New Delhi, Dec 14 : Terming as “unfortunate” the Supreme Court decision to allow the government to go ahead with widening of the roads in the Chardham Yatra project in Uttarakhand, environmental activists on Tuesday warned to be prepared for more ecological disasters in the higher reaches of the fragile Himalayas.

Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court allowed the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to widen the three strategic highways, part of the Chardham project, saying that need for the development of national highways of a double lane-paved shoulder (DL-PS) standard is proportionate to the object of fulfilling the security concerns of the nation in the backdrop of recent security challenges at the India-China border.

The almost 900-km long road project at the original estimate of Rs 12,000 crore has purportedly been pushed by the government to provide all-weather connectivity to the four holy pilgrim centres in Uttarakhand — the Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, known as Char Dham in popular usage.

Activists have been up in arms as the alignments of these roads pass through very sensitive ecological zones of the higher reaches. Not just the widening was debated but also the manner in which the work has been carried out — for instance, the haphazard manner in which mountain faces are cut, the manner in which muck is dumped, many times illegally, in the river — has been highlighted by the activists, time and again.

Mallika Bhanot from NGO Ganga Ahvaan, a citizen forum working towards conserving the Ganga and the Himalayas, said, “It is an unfortunate decision. It is like allowing all these environmental disasters which are going to jeopardize the security and safety of the residents, pilgrims and tourists visiting these valleys.”

“It will also jeopardize national security because the border would be approached through disaster prone and disastrous excessively wide roads,” she warned.

Manoj Mishra of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, a campaign for bringing back the Yamuna in its former glory, said, “With this judgment, the Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone from Uttarkashi till Gangotri will also suffer alterations and it will witness increased natural disasters. Its very existence is at stake due to the widening of roads.”

“The fact that the Defence Ministry itself had asked for seven metres (of road width) in its earlier affidavit is disregarded. The Court could have paid heed to it and declared seven metres for areas which had defence requirements and five metres for the rest of the stretch. As a result of haphazard construction, it has led to large scale, widespread landslides in newer areas. How can we ignore all these things?”

Mishra was critical that the government changed its stance on the issue: “You started in the name of Char Dham Yatra and when you realised it is not working, now you push it in the name of defence. The defence requirements are uncontested, but they cannot ignore the other ground realities.”

The activists are mulling what can be the options now and are waiting to go through the 83-page Supreme Court judgment. “The only option for the petitioners seems to be to go for a review of or ask for modification of the order,” Bhanot said.

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