New Delhi: On the issue of road widening in the Chardham highway project, the Supreme Court on Monday asked the parties to submit their responses on the report of the high-powered committee, which is monitoring this project.
A bench comprising justices R.F. Nariman, K.M. Joseph and Ajay Rastogi scheduled the matter for further hearing on January 27, after senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing an NGO, sought time to bring on record additional documents in connection with the report.
In an affidavit, the Centre has urged the top court to accept the majority report of 21 members of the high-powered committee, which suggested a two-lane road with paved shoulders (10-metre wide carriageway) in the backdrop of strategic requirement and snow removal needs.
The affidavit said that as per the top court’s direction, the committee met on December 15-16 and discussed the road widening issue, and the report was submitted in the court on December 31.
According to the Centre, three members, including the chairman of the committee, Ravi Chopra, are insisting on a width of 5.5 metres, which was mentioned in an earlier circular dated March 23, 2018, issued by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH). This width of the road was decided by not taking into account the security needs of the country, especially the prevailing situation at the India-China borders.
“The majority accepted the circular of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways dated December 15, 2020 which is in the following terms: For roads in hilly and mountainous terrain, which act as feeder roads to the India-China borders or are of strategic importance for national security, the carriageway width should be 7m with 1.5m paved shoulder on either side,” said the affidavit.
This circular amended the earlier circular issued in March 2018. “It may be pointed out that the earlier circular dated 23.03.2018 dealt generally with roads in the hilly and mountainous terrains and was without reference to the needs of the armed forces for taking their heavy vehicles, tanks, self-propelled artillery and troops to the India-China borders,” the affidavit added.
Citing the facts supporting the road widening, the Centre said when the top court deals with the recommendations of the committee, and the recommendations of the majority of 21 members of the committee as against the three minority members who are dissenting, it may accept them.
The Centre emphasised that the majority report has taken a holistic view of the matter keeping in mind the social, economic and strategic needs of the country, and also the environmental requirements.
The 900-km Chardham highway project will provide all-weather connectivity to four holy towns in Uttarakhand — Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.