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Char-Dham Project Has Strategic Importance Of National Security To Avoid Consequences Akin To 1962 Indo-China War: AG Tells Supreme Court

Mehal Jain
10 Nov 2021 1:19 AM GMT
Char-Dham Project Has Strategic Importance Of National Security To Avoid Consequences Akin To 1962 Indo-China War: AG Tells Supreme Court
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Requesting theSupreme Court Bench to modify the earlier order, the AG urged the bench to peruse contents of the sealed cover made over to the Court "to realise the situation in which the army is placed".

"In October, China passed a law and in the circumstances, we are quite concerned about the whole matter", AG K. K. Venugopal told the Supreme Court on Tuesday, emphasising that the Char-Dham Highway expansion project now assumed strategic importance for national security, to avoid consequences akin to the 1962 Indo-China war.On October 23, the Standing Committee of the National People's...

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"In October, China passed a law and in the circumstances, we are quite concerned about the whole matter", AG K. K. Venugopal told the Supreme Court on Tuesday, emphasising that the Char-Dham Highway expansion project now assumed strategic importance for national security, to avoid consequences akin to the 1962 Indo-China war.

On October 23, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's ceremonial but top legislative body, passed a new land law for the "protection and exploitation of the country's land border areas" which will come into effect from January 1, 2022. It states that "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of…China are sacred and inviolable", and asks the state to "take measures to safeguard the territorial integrity and land boundaries and guard against and combat any act that undermines [these]".
"The development of certain infrastructure by China (on the other side of the border) is a matter of great concern. Therefore, the importance of road infrastructure. Your Lordships have also seen what happened in 1962. Therefore, the modification application. The judgment (of September 8, 2020) does not refer to the armed forces and their needs. And hence, the modification application", said the AG on Tuesday to the bench of Justices D. Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath.
It may be noted that last year, the Centre had moved an application for the modification of the order dated September 8, 2020 which was passed by a three-Judge Bench headed by Justice Rohinton Nariman, in order to permit the Union of India to make roads with 10 mtrs tarred surface as opposed to the 5.5 mtrs as ordered by the Court. The September 8, 2020 order directed that the roads in hilly and mountainous terrains for the Char Dham Highway project are to be constructed in accordance with the 2018 circular of the MoRTH and hence, the width of the road would remain at 5.5 metres. On December 2, 2020, before the Supreme Court, the Defence Ministry had sought wider roads for national security, arguing that the three national highways- Rishikesh to Mana, Rishikesh to Gangotri and Tanakpur to Pithoragarh- lead up to the northern border with China and act as feeder roads. During that hearing, Justice Nariman had noted that the road and the defence ministries "are not working in tandem with each other". The bench had asked the court-appointed High-Powered Committee to meet and look into the applications filed before the Court by the Ministry of Defence, against reducing the road width, in two weeks. Liberty was also given to the Ministry of Roads to amend its circular. The MoRTH on December 15, 2020 amended its 2018 circular that formed the basis of the ongoing legal case. The 5.5 m maximum width limit for roads in hilly and mountainous areas is now effectively 10 m. "For roads in hilly and mountainous terrain which act as feeder roads to the Indo-China border or are of strategic importance for national security, the carriageway width should be 7 m with 1.5 m paved shoulder on either side", the circular says. Referring to the 2018 circular 'Standards for lane width of national highways and roads developed under central sector schemes in hilly and mountainous terrain'- which the new circular now supersedes- the 2020 circular adds, "The standards have been further reviewed in the light of the issues raised by the Ministry of Defence. A committee of chief engineers considered the suggestions received and have recommended modifications to the standards". Reportedly, the HPC also submitted its report in two parts – the majority report and the minority report, dated December 31, 2020. In its report to the SC, the high-powered committee presented a divided opinion with the majority in favour of the wider roads on the Char Dham route, considering the strategic requirement and snow removal needs. The minority group comprised high-powered committee chairman Ravi Chopra, who is a noted environmentalist, and two other members, however, expressed their dissent and maintained that the road width should be restricted to 5.5 m.
On Tuesday, the AG told the bench that in terms of the September 2020 order, the roads connecting to the border areas cannot exceed 5.5 m in width and no purpose would be served with only the border roads being on the lines of double-lane paved shoulders if these feeder roads are also not of the same width, and that it will have "serious repercussions on defence of this country". "Three of the roads covered by the order is all we are interested in- Namely, the roads from Rishikesh to Gangotri, Rishikesh to Mana, Tanakpur to Pithoragarh, which act as feeder Roads to the border of China", told the AG.
"The original case which was filed by Citizens for Green Doon (petitioner-NGO) was with regard to what is called the Char Dham Road, connecting the four religious places of the Hindus and which is in the mountainous terrain. The petition said that the objective was to broaden these roads so that the pilgrims could have easier access and the buses could cross each other without difficulty and this was challenged. 10 m width is what the army wants but according to the petitioners, for the pilgrims going to the temples, it should be only 5.5. Finally, the order which was passed was based on the 2018 circular. The orders do not reflect anything with regard to the army requirements on the Chinese border...So far as the government is concerned, a fresh circular was issued in 2020 where note was taken of what is happening on the Chinese border and of the need for travelling of the armed forces vehicles which are very heavy, artilleries, rocket launchers, tanks which are to be carried on trucks and so on. All this was not taken into account in the order of this Court. The fault may be partly ours because we had not explained it then. The army was not really involved in this matter. Therefore, the army's needs were never in the mind of the court. The new circular of December 15, 2020 deals with roads in hilly and mountainous terrain which act as feeder Roads to Indo China border...there was a realisation that there were going to be problems on the Indo China border..and the circular also deals with roads of strategic importance in national security. It provides that the carriageway width should be 7 m with 1.5 shoulder on either side", submitted the AG.
"The whole of the case started with char Dham. So far as the NGT is concerned, it said that the widening of the road should be permitted. But when it came to the Supreme Court, the High Powered Committee was appointed. The HPC was headed by a person of eminence, that is, Dr. Ravi Chopra. He was in the minority because 13 out of 17 of the member were for the widening of the road. But Ravi Chopra and three others were against it. At that stage, the whole of the concern was should the pilgrims have anything broader than this road because so far as they are concerned, they will be travelling by buses or by foot and therefore, there is no need- that may have been the reason as I feel. But because there was the 2018 circular, the court believed that the restricted width of the road was to be 5.5 m, that was the basis. That has been changed now", he continued.
"The army problem is this that in addition to the border roads which we are having as a two-lane highway, it is also essential for them that the feeder roads are also equally wide for the tanks, artillery, machinery, the carrying of the supplies and the troops. These same utilities were lacking in the 1962 war, and the soldiers had to go on foot for long distances. Suppose the feeder Road are 10 km or 20 km of single lane, thaen the very purpose of having a two-lane mountain area is defeated. Therefore, it becomes necessary that the feeder Road also should in entirety be 2-Lane. The whole problem arose when we failed to know, when the original petition was being argued, that the army was equally involved and they were taking an active role and we should have placed the information before the court. Instead of saying that pilgrims going to 4 temples or religious places should have broader roads, the question here itself should be that these narrow roads, with which these four religious places are connected, are to be widened.", submitted the AG.
"Therefore, my respectful submission is that when the army stepped in, or we suddenly realised what was happening, the Chinese already had a big buildup on the opposite side, and therefore, we as the armed forces of the nation had to take serious note of this and not be caught napping as had happened in 1962"
Requesting the bench to modify the earlier order, the AG urged the bench to peruse contents of the sealed cover made over to the Court "to realise the situation in which the army is placed".

Click Here To Read The Order



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