Pinnacle Court accepts Union government road widening for Char Dham project

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The Top Court today allowed double lane widening of roads for the Chardham project in view of security concerns. A three-member bench of Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Surya Kant, and Justice Vikram Nath said the Defence Ministry is a specialised body and can decide its operation requirements. SC constituted an Oversight Committee headed by ex-SC judge A K Sikri for implementation of environmental safeguards for the three strategic roads, recommended by the HPC. The panel will also include representatives from the National Environmental Research Institute and the Ministry of Environment. It will report to the Supreme Court every four months and aim for implementation of existing recommendations. Justice D Y Chandrachud said it struck a delicate balance between the requirement of widening strategic roads crucial to national security and deep-rooted sustainable development principle crucial to environment. The Char Dham project is a strategic 900-km long project worth Rs 12,000 crore which aims to provide all-weather connectivity to four holy destinations or popularly known as Char Dhams - Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath - in Uttarakhand. The order was passed after the top court heard the Centre's plea seeking modification of the September 8, 2020 order, which had asked the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) to follow the 2018 circular stipulating carriageway width of 5.5 metre on the ambitious Chardham highway project, which goes up to the border with China. The road-widening was challenged by Citizens for Green Doon, a local NGO that red-flagged immeasurable destruction to the fragile Himalayan ecosystem. The government, however, had said widening of roads in the area was necessary because they were 'feeder' roads accessing those on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. Last month the court said the issue - concern for the environment vs felling of trees to widen roads - was 'nuanced'. The needs of the environment and that of defence have to be balanced, the court said. Today the bench finally remarked that It "cannot second guess the requirements of the National Defence forces".