The AG said Chopra had on his own written a letter to the government and that he will submit the Defence Ministry’s response in writing.
The Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that there was no link between the Char Dham Highway development project in Uttarakhand and the recent flash floods on Dhauliganga river which took many lives.
Attorney General K K Venugopal told a bench headed by Justice R F Nariman that the contentions of the Chairman of the High Power Committee (HPC) on the Char Dham Project, Ravi Chopra, linking the floods with the highway development, are incorrect.
The AG said Chopra had on his own written a letter to the government and that he will submit the Defence Ministry’s response in writing. The bench, also comprising Justices Hemant Gupta and B R Gavai, asked him to submit the same in two weeks.
The HPC is monitoring the ambitious project which is meant to widen 889 km of hill roads to provide all-weather connectivity between major pilgrimage sites in Uttarakhand. The project is also considered strategically important as it will make troop movement easier in the areas closer to the China border.
Chopra, in a letter to the court, has pointed out that hydroelectric projects and highway development have caused irreversible damage to the Himalayan ecology and that the flash floods were an outcome of this. He said there are many chronic landslide-prone locations and stretches, where the slope stability is precarious, on the three Char Dham highways identified by the Defence Ministry as defence feeder roads. Extensive disturbances like deforestation, slope cutting, blasting, tunnelling, damming of rivers, excessive tourism, etc., he opined, is bound to increase the vulnerability.
The highway development project had run into a heated debate even earlier with HPC members divided on the issue of the width of the road.
While the majority favoured increasing the width to 12 metres, the minority, including Chopra, backed 5.5 metres for the carriageway and additional paved shoulder — taking the total width to about 7 to 7.5 metres — for use by pilgrims who take the trek to the holy sites.
In September last year, the SC asked the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) to go by its 2018 circular on the width of roads in the hilly terrain in the execution of the Char Dham project.
According to the 2018 guidelines, “intermediate carriageway of 5.5 m tarred surface be adopted” for roads in such terrain
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