The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed double lane paved shoulder configuration for Chardham road project, a prestigious project of the NDA government, taking into consideration the recent security challenges, at India-China border, and the strategic importance of having double-lane roads for swift movement of the Armed Forces.
A bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud emphasised that it is essential to strike a balance, when there is need to widen strategic roads, important for national security, and the principle sustainable development, which is crucial to protect the environment. The bench said this court can't second-guess the infrastructural needs of the Armed Forces.
The top court also constituted an oversight committee, led by former Supreme Court judge Justice A.K. Sikri, to ensure all remedial measures are taken in the interest of the environment and the recommendations of the high-power committee are implemented in the project. The top court pointed out that there is no mala fide in the application filed by the Ministry of Defence to widen the roads for the operational requirement of the Armed Forces.
The bench said the highways, which are strategic roads for the forces, cannot be compared to any other hilly or mountainous roads.
The top court was hearing a plea filed by an NGO 'Citizens for Green Doon' seeking direction to stop felling of trees without clearances on the Ganeshpur-Dehradun Road (NH-72A), which is a part of the Delhi-Dehradun expressway.
In 2018, the Centre's notification said that the road width cannot exceed 5.5 meters in the hilly terrains like the one through which Chardham project is proposed. In September 2020, the top court directed the government to keep the width of the Chardham road at 5.5 meters.
In December, 2020, the Defence Ministry had sought permission from the top court to widen roads for national security, and contended that three national highways -- Rishikesh to Mana, Rishikesh to Gangotri and Tanakpur to Pithoragarh -- lead up to the northern border with China, which act as feeder roads.
The Chardham highway is a 900-kilometre road project to provide all-weather connectivity to the four Hindu pilgrimage centres in Uttarakhand.