There are several landslide prone zones in the Char Dham circuit
NEW DELHI: The Centre on Thursday told the Supreme Court that requirement of armed forces at the volatile Indo-China borders required rapid movement of armament and heavy artillery through the Chardham roads linking garrisons to border points and argued that widening the existing roads to 10 metre width would facilitate this even in rain, snow and landslides.
“The risk of landslides is always there. And we are ready to consider all suggestions for mitigating possible adverse impact from the construction of all weather roads. That is why we have roped in Geological Survey of India and Tehri Hydro Development Corporation (THDC) to suggest remedial and mitigating measures in landslide prone and earth sinking zones,” said attorney general while addressing a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, Surya Kant an Vikram Nath.
“Landslides and earth sinking zones are not unique to Himalayas but occur in every hilly terrain. Can any armed forces be heard to say that because of hilly terrain, lack of proper roads and impediments in transporting of heavy artillery tanks, armament and troops, it is vulnerable at borders? Can we give up making roads for army purposes in the hills because of landslides? We have to build proper roads to facilitate movement of the army and its machinery while taking all steps to mitigate possible impact on the environment and Himalayas,” the AG said.
Referring to the AG’s submission that GSI and THDC have been roped in to suggest mitigating measures for Chardham project, which act as feeder roads for border areas, the bench said, “This is a good thing that they are doing now. Better late than never.” The AG informed that the border roads are built exclusively by Border Roads Organisation (BRO), but the Chardham projects are being executed under the supervision of BRO, National Highways Infrastructure Development Corporation and state PWDs through engagement of private contractors.
The AG said the government is open to suggestions from petitioner organisation “Citizens for Green Doon” on taking additional mitigation measures in the construction of the Chardham road project. “The government will surely implement any additional measures suggested by the court,” he said. Justice Chandrachud-led bench reserved its decision on the Centre’s plea for modification of SC’s earlier September 8, 2020 order restricting the width of the Chardham roads to 5.5 metres. Centre wants the roads with paved shoulders to be 10 metres in width.
Appearing for the petitioner, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves said that they are not against widening of roads for army purposes. “But, the question is – can the Himalayas withstand such mindless widening of roads? Nature has answered the question as incident after incident of landslides have rendered the wide roads inaccessible for vehicles. The 5.5 metre width is sufficient for movement of troops,” he said.
Gonsalves said, “Let the pristine atmosphere and natural surroundings of holy places be not violated by mindless development. The best defence of the country is the Himalayas itself. The army and roads come second. Construction of double lane paved shoulder roads of 10 metre width will devastatingly impact the Himalayas and in turn the whole ecology and climate of the country for generations to come. The time for mitigation measures is long gone. It is time to restore nature.”