Armed forces can’t surrender nation’s defence to fear of landslips, government tells SC

Advocate for for petitioner NGO ‘Citizens of Green Doon’ says “best defence for our country is the mountains”

Published - November 11, 2021 05:38 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The armed forces cannot surrender the nation’s defence to threats of landslips caused by widening of Himalayan roads for quickly moving military hardware to the “very vulnerable” Indo-China border, the Central government said in the Supreme Court on Thursday.

Appearing before a three-judge Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal stated that crucial defence equipment such as the Brahmos or Vajra missile launchers and Smerch rocket carriers needed room to maneuver the tough terrain and reach the border.

“There is a Chinese build-up in the Tibetan region... Today we are facing a situation that the country has to be defended. All three wings of the armed forces have to combine to defend the nation. We have to ensure that every physical, technological and financial facility is made available to the armed forces. The Army has a stupendous task to reach the passes. The defence forces cannot fold their hands and say ‘oh, landslide may happen, we will give up this road to the border’. If it is a landslip threat, we will have to deal with it,” Mr. Venugopal submitted.

Landslips have ‘not spared anybody’

Landslips have “not spared anybody”. They had occurred recently across the country from Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa to Uttarakhand. “Come what may”, landslip or heavy rainfall, the readiness to defend the borders, to fight, was necessary, he contended.

Mr. Venugopal specified that the defence requirement was a two-lane road of seven metres width.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, for petitioner NGO ‘Citizens of Green Doon’, countered that the “best defence for our country is the mountains”.

“Will the Himalayas tolerate a double lane with paved shoulder [DLPS] system of roads which would act as sources of heat and disruptor of ecology in the fragile area? The strength of the Himalayas is already half undone, it should not be allowed to be fully undone now,” he observed. He argued that the width of the roads should be restricted to 5.5 m in width. “We may want to take a missile up, but the real issue is whether the Himalayas will be able to tolerate the DLPS system.”

Mr. Venugopal said the Union was open to alternative suggestions. There had been a detailed probe into critical geo-hazard areas in the Himalayas, sinking of roads, research into sustainable mitigation methods and dangers of muck-dumping.

The court reserved the case for judgment.

Centre’s application

The hearing was based on an application filed by the Centre to modify the court’s September 8, 2020 order that mountain roads of the Char Dham Highway project should be 5.5 m in width in compliance with a 2018 circular of the Roads and Highways Ministry.

The Ministry, however, amended its circular in December last, saying “for roads in hilly and mountainous terrain which act as feeder roads to the Indo-China border or are of strategic importance for national security, the carriageway width should be 7 m with 1.5 m paved shoulder on either side”.

This was triggered by the Ministry of Defence’s demand for wider roads, saying the three national highways - Rishikesh to Mana, Rishikesh to Gangotri and Tanakpur to Pithoragarh - acted as feeder roads to the northern border with China.

The apex court has been lately maintaining the need to strike a balance between defence and environmental concerns.

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