The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed that the width of hilly and mountainous terrains for the Char Dham Highway project to be constructed in accordance with the 2018circular of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH).
A 3-judge bench comprising of Justices RF Nariman, Navin Sinha and Indira Banerjee took into consideration the current situation with regard to the eco system and fragility of the mountain terrains to order that the width of the road would remain at 5.5 metres.
A High Power Committee constituted by Supreme Court in August 2019 submitted a Report in July 2020 whereby 13 members recommended following standards prescribed in a circular from 2012 while 5 members, including the Chairman, were in favour of going ahead according to the 2018 circular.
The 2018 circular prescribes a width of 5.5 metres for the intermediate lane configuration along with two-lane structures for National Highways in hilly and mountainous terrains.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta contended that it was only a minority view of the Committee that the 2018 circular be complied with. Adding that since the road covers the India-China Border, the terrain in question sees movement of Army vehicles. Therefore, he urged, the width of the carriageway must be 7 metres wide, not 5.5 metres.
Refusing to accept this submission, Justice Nariman asserted that "the 2018 circular will alone apply."
"Shri Tushar Mehta, learned Solicitor General, persisted with his arguments that the 2018 circular is only prospective in nature. We are well aware of the distinction between something which is retrospective in the sense that it applies for the first time to projects which are already completed as opposed to ongoing projects, where it is necessary to take stock of the current situation and then move forward. Having taken stock of the current situation and of the fragility generally of the eco system in mountain terrain, we are of the view that this argument has no legs to stand on." -Records the Order
Appearing for the Citizens for Green Doon, the Petitioner NGO, senior advocate Sanjay Parikh apprised court of devastation caused to mountains as a result of violations of directions by authorities.
Recording that a "great deal of devastation has occurred in certain areas and that plantation should be taken up in right earnest", the Apex Court noted that "we have no doubt that this will be carried out" and disposed off the application.
The char dham project is a 900KM, all-weather highway project which connects four towns state of Uttarakhand including Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.
On August 8, 2019, a bench comprising Justices R F Nariman and Surya Kant had modified the NGT order approving the Char Dham Highway project and constituted a High Powered Committee to assess and study the impact of the project on the Himalayan valleys.
In the meeting held on July 2020, the HPC could not reach a unanimous decision on the road width for the proposed highway, resulting in the matter reaching before the bench.