The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Centre to construct all-weather roads with 10-metre tarred surfaces, as opposed to the 5.5-metre-wide road ordered earlier, as a part of the Char Dham project. Many of these are strategic feeder roads leading to the Indo-China border, according to officials familiar with the matter.
The court was hearing the Centre’s plea seeking modification of the September 8, 2020 order, which had asked the ministry of road transport and highways to follow the 2018 circular stipulating carriageway width of 5.5 metre on the ambitious Char Dham highway project, which goes up to the border with China.
The defence ministry had urged the Supreme Court to modify the earlier order and allow the national highways from Rishikesh to Mana, from Rishikesh to Gangotri, and from Tanakpur to Pithoragarh to be developed to two-lane configuration.
The Supreme Court noted that the recent past has thrown up serious challenges to security along the borders. “This court can’t second-guess infrastructural needs of armed forces,” held the top court.
The Supreme Court has, however, taken note of environmental concerns raised regarding the widening of the Char Dham highway project. An oversight committee, led by former Supreme Court judge AK Sikri, has been constituted to ensure that all remedial measures are taken in the interest of the environment and that the relevant recommendation of the high-powered committee is implemented while going ahead with the project.
While modifying the September 8, 2020 order allowing only 5.5-metre-wide width for the Char Dham roads, the Supreme Court noted on Tuesday that the ministry of road transport and highways circulars do not forbid the double-laning of roads in hilly and mountainous terrains if they are of strategic and border importance. The judiciary cannot interfere either in defence requirements, the court added.
The oversight committee shall receive all support from the defence ministry, the road transport ministry, the Uttarakhand government and all concerned district magistrates.
The strategic 900km-long Char Dham project, worth ₹12,000 crore, aims to provide all-weather connectivity to four sacred towns in Uttarakhand – Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath.