The Supreme Court has today granted two weeks’ time to the Centre to file its response in the report of the court-appointed High-Powered Committee, in wake of the recent Uttarakhand floods.
The bench headed by Justice Rohinton Nariman has given time to allow the Ministry of Defence to respond to allegations by the chairman of the high-powered committee linking the project to the recent disaster at the Dhauliganga river.
Earlier, Ravi Chopra, the chairman of the committee, had written a letter addressed to the Supreme Court suggesting a link between the disaster and road widening project.
Therefore, during the hearing on Thursday, Attorney General K K Venugopal took objection to Mr. Chopra’s letter to the Government linking the Highway widening project to the recent flash floods on the Dhauliganga river, which claimed many lives and damaged Tapovan hydro project.
“There is no link,” Attorney General KK Venugopal said on behalf of the defense ministry. He further termed the letter ‘unwarranted’. However, to put his stand on record, he sought two weeks to file a reply.
The high-powered committee was formed to assess environmental damages to the Char Dham road project, presently under construction.
The strategic 900-km long project aims to provide all-weather connectivity to four important Hindu pilgrimage sites: Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath, in Uttarakhand.
The Court was hearing a petition filed by NGO Citizens for Green Doon raising environmental concerns over road widening work.
The project is under the Supreme Court’s scanner after an NGO, Citizens for Green Doon, raised environmental concerns over the cutting of trees and harm to the fragile Himalayan ecology by the widening of the existing mountain roads. The high-powered committee was formed to be the eyes and ears of the Supreme Court on the project. However, it had not been unanimous in its views.
On September 8, the apex court had upheld the recommendation of the minority members of the high-powered committee and asked the implementing agencies to reduce the width of the road to 5.5 meters for the whole project. The order was based on a March 2018 circular released by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways laying down guidelines for road construction in hilly terrains in the country.
On December 2 last year, the top court had asked its high-powered committee to consider within two weeks the applications including that of the defense ministry seeking widening of roads up to 7 meters in the Indo-China border area.