If the Indian Army cannot move its missile launchers and heavy machinery up to the Indo-China border, how will it fight a war if one broke out, the Centre asked the Supreme Court on Thursday while responding to two pleas on the Char Dham highway project in Uttarakhand, reported PTI.
The first plea has been filed by a non governmental organisation Citizens for Green Doon against the widening of the roads for the project, citing environmental concerns.
The second one has been filed by the Union Ministry of Defence seeking a modification of the court’s order passed in September 2020 that asked the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to follow a 2018 circular stipulating carriageway width of 5.5 metre. The government is seeking permission to increase the width to 10 metres, reported Live Law.
The 900-km-long Char Dham project, worth Rs 12,000 crore, is being developed to provide all-weather connectivity to all the four religious places – Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath – in Uttarakhand.
During Thursday’s hearing, Attorney General KK Venugopal said the terrains in Uttarakhand are inhospitable and the Army needs to movie heavy vehicles, machineries, weapons, missiles, tanks, troops and food supplies. He pointed out that the Brahmos missile was 42-feet long and needs large vehicle to carry its launchers.
“God forbid if the war breaks out then how will the Army deal with it if it does not have its weapons,” Venugopal said. “We have to be careful and on guard. We are to remain prepared. Our defence minister [Rajnath Singh] attended Indian Road Congress and had said that the Army needs disaster-resilient roads.”
Allaying fears of environmental accidents, the attorney general said that studies, including geological surveys and morphology, have been conducted and the government has taken steps such as slope stabilisation, afforestation, scientific muck disposal as precautionary measures.
“Landslides can happen anywhere in the country even where there is no road activity but mitigation steps which are necessary are undertaken,” he said. “Our roads need to be disaster resilient. There are specialised protection measures undertaken in the vulnerable areas, where frequent landslides occur and heavy snowfall blocks the road.”
Venugopal said that all the facilities needed by the Army have to be provided.
“Will the Army throw up its hands and say that a landslide will take place and therefore, we will give up this mountain road leading to the Line of Actual Control?” he asked. “No Army can be heard to say that.”
On the report submitted by a Supreme Court-appointed high powered committee, Venugopal said it focuses on different aspects and did not consider the situation of the India Army that it should have.
The committee had submitted its report in two parts – the majority report and minority report – in December last year and presented a divided opinion.
The majority report was in favour of widening the roads, considering the strategic requirement and the need to remove snow. The minority group, comprising the panel’s chairperson Ravi Chopra who is an environmentalist, and two other members, had maintained that the road width should be restricted to 5.5 metres.
During the hearing, senior advocate Collin Gonsalves, appearing for Citizens for Green Doon, submitted that the road widening project needs to be stopped. “It will endanger the lives of soldiers and people as the Himalayas don’t need any such thing to happen,” he said.
The court has asked both the parties to file written submission on the steps taken to mitigate landslides in the region.
In an earlier hearing, Venugopal had said that the project assumed strategic importance for national security to avoid a repeat of the 1962 Indo-China War in view of Beijing’s new land border law passed in October and its build-up of infrastructure along the border.
Gonsalves had said that the Centre’s justification of strategic importance was a ruse. He had argued that any further widening of the roads would weaken and destabilise the Himalayan range and result in drastic consequences such as landslides and other natural calamities.