Supreme Court orders committee to review ecological aspects of Chardham project

The Apex Court modifies NGT order, sets up independent committee headed by environmentalist

Updated - August 17, 2019 11:16 pm IST

Published - August 17, 2019 11:08 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Supreme Court has ordered the setting up of an independent committee take a view on whether the Centre’s ambitious 900 kilometre, ₹12,000 crore ambitious Char Dham project to improve road network connecting pilgrimage spots in Uttarakhand, needs to be “revised” to minimise its ecological damage.

The project proposes the widening of single lane roads into double lanes by up to 10 metres, developing highways in Uttarakhand and thereby improving access to the Char Dham (four shrines) — Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedar Nath.

It has also evoked widespread concern among environmentalists, and has been challenged in the courts.

Environmentalist groups, led by the Dehradun-based Citizens for Green Doon, had filed petitions last February in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) contending that the project was proceeding without environmental clearances and debris was being disposed haphazardly. The fragile Himalayan hills slopes were being cut open indiscriminately and the project posed an environmental threat, the petitioners said.

NGT nod

However, on September 26, the NGT ruled that an environmental clearance wasn’t required and allowed the project to proceed but with several caveats. A seven-member committee of experts led by a former judge of the Uttarakhand court was to ensure that an environmental management plan would be in place and properly adhered to, the NGT said.

Subsequently, the NGT nod for the project was stayed by the Supreme Court on technical grounds. But on August 8, the apex court backed portions of the Tribunal’s order allowing the project to continue with assessment by an independent committee.

The order, which was made available late on Friday, modified portions of the earlier NGT order regarding the constitution of the High Powered Committee (HPC). Instead of being headed by a judge, it would be led by Ravi Chopra, Director of the Dehradun People’s Science Institute.

It would also have representatives from the Department of Space, the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, and a representative from the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Chopra has been strongly critical of the Char Dham project and has frequently spoken of the impact of large hydropower projects and constructions on the Himalayan ecology.

Four-month deadline

The Chopra committee is expected to make assessments and give recommendations to the Road Transport Ministry within four months, the SC said.

The Committee would consider the “cumulative and independent impact” of the Char Dham project on the Himalayan ecology.

It also had the prerogative to “give directions” to conduct environment impact assessments by the project proponents or the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

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