The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Union Ministry of Defence to widen the roads for the Centre’s 899-km Char Dham project in Uttarakhand, saying it will be of strategic importance for border and national security, Live Law reported.
The project, worth Rs 12,000 crore, seeks to improve road connectivity to four Hindu pilgrimage sites, Gangotri and Yamunotri, near the source of the rivers, and the temple towns of Badrinath and Kedarnath in the state.
During Tuesday’s hearing, a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath was hearing a plea filed by the defence ministry seeking a modification of the court’s order passed in September 2020.
The court had then asked the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to follow a 2018 circular, stipulating carriageway width of 5.5 metre. The government has been seeking permission to increase the width to 10 metres so that heavy machinery, like missile launchers, could be easily moved up to the Indo-China border in Uttarakhand.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court modified the September 2020 order, allowing the defence ministry to widen the roads, Live Law reported.
“Border security concerns need to be met and movement of troops and equipment is needed, given serious challenges to national security in the recent past,” the court said, according to NDTV. “Armed forces’ infrastructure needs have to be met to safeguard borders, and highways that are of strategic importance cannot be treated the same way as those in other hilly terrains.”
An environmental non-profit organisation in Uttarakhand, Citizens for Green Doon, had filed a petition against the widening of the roads for the project because of environmental concerns.
The three-judge bench, however, rejected the arguments of the organisation claiming that the defence ministry’s application had dishonest intentions, Live Law reported.
“We find there are no malafides in application filed by MoD [Ministry of Defence],” the Supreme Court said, according to Bar and Bench. “MoD is authorised to design operational requirement of armed forces. Bonafides of MoD is apparent from security concerns raised in security committee meeting.”
However, the court took note of the environmental concerns raised by its high-power committee. It asked the defence ministry to implement the panel’s recommendations while widening the roads.
“HPC [high-power committee] notes that best practices were not adopted in some places,” the court said. “HPC has also noted harm committed in some areas and has suggested remedies for the same and has suggested future action to reduce the impact.”
The court appointed an oversight committee, headed by retired Supreme Court judge AK Sikri, to supervise the implementation of the directives. In case the order is not followed properly, Sikri has been asked to approach the court.