The chairman of a Supreme Court-appointed expert committee has alleged violations of the court orders in the execution of the Chardham road project — a 900-km, ₹12,000-crore enterprise to connect pilgrimage spots in Uttarakhand.
A controversial aspect was the proposed width of the two-line highways envisaged. The SC committee was divided over the width with one set of members saying it only be 5.5-metre-wide and another plumbing for a higher road width. The SC ruled last month that a 5.5-metre width be enforced as it was in conformity with a 2018 recommendation by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) for mountain roads. The MoRTH is also the key coordinator of the Chardham project. Prior to this, the government had sanctioned a road width of 10-12 metres.
“I’m shocked to see that the Intermediate Width design [of 5.5 m] will only be used for stretches where work has not begun and work where hill cutting has been done and where plantation and other mitigation measures have to be undertaken as per the court orders. The same was confirmed to me on the phone by Pariyojana chief engineer, in charge of MoRTH regional office,” Ravi Chopra, Chairman of the High Powered Committee (HPC), said in a letter to the Secretary, MoRTH and the Secretary, Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change. “Further I’m getting reports from concerned people that hill cutting and destruction of forests are on now in full swing.”
The letter — sent as an email and viewed by The Hindu — was written on September 28 but no responses were furnished as of Sunday evening, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Mr. Chopra demanded that the officials explain how these contraventions were ongoing.
The 900-km stretch has been broken up into 53 contracted road projects. About 700 km had already been tendered out this way and work had commenced. “What we are hearing is that the MoRTH has allowed the 700 km-road projects to continue with the old 10-metre width and only in the remaining 200 km roads would the new narrow width apply. This is a clear contravention of the Supreme Court orders which said that the road width must apply in the entire stretch,” Hemant Dhyani, environment activist and HPC member, told The Hindu .
Where hills had already been cut (in the 700-km stretch), space beyond 5.5 metres should be adjusted to make walkways for pilgrims, plantations and safety barriers, he said.
Prior to the SC deciding on the road width, the HPC had seen fractious dissent with two reports — instead of a single one — being prepared. Mr. Chopra had denounced the report sent by the other members, and, in a letter to the Union Environment Ministry Secretary, said he was “pressured and harassed to submit a one-sided view,” by certain committee members. Most of the members of the ‘majority’ group are affiliated to the Uttarakhand government or Central Ministries, whereas three of four members who have signed on the ‘main’ report are independent experts.