The Centre on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that there was no link between the Char Dham road-widening project in Uttarakhand and the glacier disaster earlier this month in which over 50 people were killed, The Hindu reported.
Attorney General KK Venugopal made the submission before a bench led by Justice Rohinton Nariman. This happened four days after Ravi Chopra, the head of the Supreme Court-appointed committee monitoring the highway project in the ecologically-sensitive area, drew a connection between the two.
“We received a letter from the Chairman of the High-Powered Panel saying there is a link between the road widening and the Uttarakhand disaster,” Venugopal told the bench, according to NDTV. “But according to us, Defence Ministry, there is no such connection. We want to reply to the allegations and need time.” The Supreme Court, then, gave the Centre two weeks to file its response in the matter.
The 889-km road widening project is meant to connect four major pilgrimage sites – Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri – in Uttarakhand. The projects is also strategically significant as the government says the widening of roads will facilitate the movement of troops to the India-China border.
Chopra had told the Supreme Court in a letter on February 13 that disaster resilience was more important than widening highways, NDTV reported. He warned that there were several landslide-prone locations on the three highways which the government had identified as feeder roads.
“The recent disaster in the Rishi Ganga valley is located in the region north...highly prone to landslides, flash floods and earthquake,” Chopra said in the letter, according to the news channel. “A section of the defence road to the Indo-China border and a bridge across the Rishiganga river on that road have been swept away, lending credence to our argument for disaster resilience in the region.”
The Supreme Court had in September last year directed the Centre not to widen roads in the region beyond five and a half metres. However, the government submitted that a 7 to 7.5-metre wide double lane road will be necessary for the movement of heavy trucks carrying troops and equipment. requirement, The Hindu reported.
The glacier disaster
The glacier break in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district on February 7 triggered an avalanche and massive flooding. The torrent washed away two power plants and five bridges.
On Tuesday, the toll from the glacier disaster rose to 58 as rescuers recovered two more bodies from the tunnel at the Tapovan power project. As many as 146 people were still missing.
Chamoli district’s Chief Medical Officer G S Rana said post-mortem had been done on all the bodies recovered so far, PTI reported. “All of them died of injuries sustained on their bodies and due to sludge and water entering their lungs,” he said.