Govt urges SC to accept panel’s majority view on Char Dham road project

Minority view says circular needs a rethink considering its “long-term impacts on the fragile Himalayan terrain and sensitive ecosystem”

The Central government supported the majority view taken by the Supreme Court’s Char Dham High-Powered Committee (HPC) for the necessity of broadening the Himalayan feeder roads to India-China border in order to facilitate troop movement.

The Ministry of Defence, in an affidavit, said it was unfortunate that three of the HPC members had given a minority view to reconsider a December 15, 2020 circular of the Ministry of Road and Transport and Highways (MoRTH), which fixed the carriageway width of the feeder roads at seven metre with a paved shoulder spanning 1.5 metre on either side.

A Bench led by Justice Rohinton Nariman, on December 2, asked the HPC to meet and discuss a plea by the Ministry that narrowing the feeder roads along the India-China border in Uttarakhand would cause “serious repurcussions” to national security.

The minority view, however, said the circular needed a rethink considering its “long-term impacts on the fragile Himalayan terrain and sensitive ecosystem”.

Unfortunate, says affidavit

The Centre, in its affidavit, said it was “unfortunate” that the HPC members, who are in the minority, have given such an opinion “notwithstanding the security of the country and the need of the defence forces to resist possible external aggression”.

The government urged the court to accept the majority view of 21 members on the HPC who support the circular, which had amended an earlier MoRTH one of March 2018 that called for narrower roads to protect the Himalayan ecosystem.

The government explained that the March 2018 circular had dealt “generally with roads in hilly and mountainous terrain without reference to the needs of the Armed Forces”.

The affidavit said, “The Forces have to take heavy vehicles, tanks, self-propelled artillery and troops to the Indo-China border… It is the specific need of the Armed Forces to defend the country against any possible external aggression at the northern border – this had required amendments in the March 2018 circular”.

An earlier affidavit of the government said a double-lane road with a width of 7 to 7.5 metre was necessary to meet the Army’s requirement. Heavy trucks carrying troops, equipment and armaments could not be stuck on blocked feeder roads leading to a border which ran to 385 km in Uttarakhand.

Deployment in emergency situations

It said that bottlenecks would delay deployment in emergency situations if feeder roads were not developed to requisite standards. The Army had been using these roads post the war with China in 1962.

The affidavit also referred to a “recent face-off” with Nepal in Lipulekh side in 2020, saying all these sectors were “highly sensitive”.

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