New Delhi: Serious differences have again cropped up among the members of the Supreme Court-appointed panel to monitor the implementation of the Rs 12,000-crore Char Dham road project.
As many as 21 out of the 26 panel members have told the apex court that it is not “feasible” to revisit the entire project where work is already completed and reduce the road width from 10 metres to 5.5 metres.
The apex court had on 8 September ordered that the road width on the entire Char Dham route — aimed at improving connectivity to the Hindu pilgrimage sites of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath — should be 5.5 metres, according to the standards laid down by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways’ March 2018 circular.
But in its joint report, seen by ThePrint, submitted to the Supreme Court last week, the 21 members of the High-Powered Committee (HPC) said, “This is impractical as it is not possible to grow trees on the excavated parts.”
They also said the HPC should now focus on monitoring the activities of the project being implemented by the road transport and highways ministry.
The minority group — comprising HPC chairman Ravi Chopra, who is a noted environmentalist, and two other members — have, however, expressed their dissent and given their views separately in the same report.
This group also said keeping the road width on the entire stretch of the project, including strategic roads, at 10 metres will have a “long term impact on the fragile Himalayan terrain and the sensitive Himalayan ecosystem”.
The SC is likely to hear the matter on 18 January.
Construction completed on 365-km of the 816-km stretch
On 2 December, the SC bench led by Justice R.F. Nariman had directed the HPC to convene a meeting to consider the affidavits submitted by the defence and road ministries within two weeks and submit its report.
Citing serious repercussions on the defence of the country and its security interests, which “is in jeopardy especially in the background of today’s sensitive situation existing at the Chinese border”, the defence ministry had moved an application in the SC, requesting it to modify its 8 September order and allow a two-lane road with 7-metre width in some parts of the 816-kilometre Char Dham highway.
In its 8 September order, the SC had directed that the road width on the entire Char Dham route should be 5.5 metres.
But the road transport and highways ministry had by then followed its 2012 order — according to which the road width of a two-lane road with paved shoulder was fixed at 10 metres — and already done hill-cutting to build 10-metre road on the 537-km of the total 816-km stretch.
Also, the ministry had already completed construction on a 365-km stretch when the apex court’s 8 September direction came.
Split recommendation from HPC for second time
This is the second time that differences among the members of the HPC, which was set up last year, cropped up, resulting in split recommendations.
In July this year, the HPC had submitted two different reports on the project to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
The main report, signed by panel chairman Chopra and four members, had recommended that the highways ministry should follow its March 2018 circular according to which the intermediate carriageway length should be 5.5 metres.
But the majority group, comprising 21 members, submitted a second report to the environment ministry where it recommended that the road width of “double lane with paved shoulder” should be 10 metres. The group had also highlighted that the majority view was ignored by Chopra, forcing them to submit a separate report.