Don’t undermine SC on Char Dham plan

The Supreme Court (SC)-appointed high-powered committee (HPC), which was formed in 2019 to review whether the Centre’s ambitious Char Dham Highway Project (CDHP) needs to be revised to minimise the ecological damage of the fragile Himalayan region, met on October 17 to decide the “future course of action” on the project. But what is surprising — and wrong — is that the meeting happened without HPC chairman Ravi Chopra’s approval and participation. The Rs 12,000 crore-CHDP aims to build an 889-km all-weather road, connecting Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri. According to a report in this newspaper, some HPC members have alleged that holding the meeting reeked of political interference.

The allegation cannot be rejected completely because there have been several instances in the last few months when certain members of the independent 26-member panel have not only undermined Mr Chopra’s authority, but tried to weaken HPC so that the construction of CDHP continues as planned despite environmental costs. The panel is divided over how wide the highway should be — HPC recommended that the width of the road should be 5.5 metres instead of 7.5 metres to SC in July. On September 8, SC upheld the recommen-dation and asked the National Highways Authority of India to reduce the width of the road for the remaining part of the project. Mr Chopra alleged that the Uttarakhand Public Works Department is not implementing the SC order. Government officials who are uncomfortable with the prescriptions of the SC-empowered panel must realise that undermining Mr Chopra means undermining the court itself, and putting the ecology and citizens of the state at risk. As this paper had said before, the Char Dham project needs to be reviewed, and the SC needs to take a strict view of those undermining its orders.

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