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Justice Chandrachud Recounts Experience In Kargil During Char-Dham Hearing; Says Army People Closely Bound With Civilians

Mehal Jain
11 Nov 2021 5:26 AM GMT
Justice Chandrachud Recounts Experience In Kargil During Char-Dham Hearing; Says Army People Closely Bound With Civilians
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In the course of the hearing in the Char-Dham Highway expansion matter, Justice D. Y. Chandrachud on Wednesday recounted his Experience in Kargil, expressing that army lives are closely bound with civilians.These remarks came when Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves, for the petitioner-NGO Citizens for Green Doon, expressed that he is "very perturbed by this narrative of Army versus the people,...

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In the course of the hearing in the Char-Dham Highway expansion matter, Justice D. Y. Chandrachud on Wednesday recounted his Experience in Kargil, expressing that army lives are closely bound with civilians.

These remarks came when Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves, for the petitioner-NGO Citizens for Green Doon, expressed that he is "very perturbed by this narrative of Army versus the people, of Defence versus environment"
"There is no defence versus environment at all. What you do for the defence is not contrary to the civilian needs or environmental needs", observed Justice Chandrachud on Wednesday.
"If you travel to the remotest parts of the nation, particularly in the northern sector, you will realise that the lives of the army men and the army women and the lives of the civilian population are very closely bound together. I had gone to Zanskar, which is a good 10-12 hours ride from Kargil. We have a sole judicial officer managing the court at Zanskar. He invited me and my spouse to his home. He was single so there were a lot of law books at his office. He said that this doubles up as the court room also, and that this doubles up as my living room and my bedroom as well! There were books of judicial services. He also had, incidentally, a guitar which was preserved in a corner, because he was a sole person in very extreme climes, running the court, where there is zero pendency. It was very interesting, what he said. I asked them what do you do here. He said we assist the local population- if there is any skirmish between 2 neighbours, or to write a will. But he said the most important thing we do is that in collaboration with the army, we ensure that if there is a civilian who gets into difficulty in this harsh climate and has to be airlifted, even in the harsh winter, we are the people who are there at the spot to ensure that the civilian is airlifted to Chandigarh!", narrated the judge.
"So you realise that the lives of the army are closely bound up with the lives of the civilian population. The Army is defending the borders, but equally is its presence in the areas to protect the civilian population! In the harsh winters, when food supplies have to be made available, army trucks go into these areas to ensure that they are there, that the fuel is there. Let's completely allay this defence versus the environment! It is not like that at all. We have to have a balance between both of them", said Justice Chandrachud.
On Tuesday as well, iterating that the petitioners are also "for the defence", Mr. Gonsalves had indicated a conversation with General Bipin Rawat, the chief of army staff- "He was asked if they want proper roads. He was sitting in the Himalayas which is his home and he said that 'in the army, we are happy with the roads as they are'. His words were, 'We must look after defence and we must look after the environment'. When he was asked about trucks going up these roads, he said 'we don't want these roads to be like that. We have very heavy artillery-lifting helicopters and they have done their jobs'. This was a candid conversation with him, who is a thorough army man and a thorough 'Pahari.'"
At this, Justice Chandrachud had made observations based on his personal experience of trekking- "He (Bipin Rawat) may not be completely right. When an army soldier from the southern command is sent up to Ladakh, for every thousand feet that they climb, beyond 12,000, there is a mandatory waiting period. Otherwise, you can't just take soldiers from Chandigarh upto the Siachen glacier. The level of attrition will be unbelievably high. I have done a lot of trekking. I will say this as a matter of personal experience because we are also citizens of the world. Whenever you are going through to these heights, you will realise there are convoys of soldiers from the army led by the Colonel where, for every thousand feet that they have climbed, there is a mandatory period for you to stay so that you can acclimatise. If you don't do that, any army man will tell you that there will be a very high level of attrition. While you may have very good equipment for airlifting, you have the C130 Hercules with the army, but the human cost is very high. The movement has to be gradual when men and materials have to be moved!"
"But we also don't want our troops racing up the roads and then having mountains break on them. What is the point then? What is the security then?", Mr. Gonsalves had proceeded to urge.
Justice Chandrachud had then remarked, "If you have ever been on those mountains, there is no question of the troops racing up. They go on the Tata trucks, you know how those trucks go, you know how the army travels. Even the Gypsies don't go up and down racing."
On Tuesday as well, Justice Chandrachud had remarked, "Can we deny the factual position that these roads are feeder roads to the roads which lead up to the border? Suppose you have to go from Rishikesh to Meerut to the border, I don't think there can be any dispute about the fact that these are strategic feeder roads to the border. We will ofcourse be dealing with the environment as well. We will be asking the AG about those considerations. But just for clarity, we cannot dispute the fact that these are feeder roads, and that border roads are only those which are appurtenant to the border in a geographical proximity sense may not be the correct way of dealing with it, because a feeder road which subserves the movement to the border is equally to be upgraded."
The judge had continued to note, "What they are trying to do now is not to create a six lane or an eight way highway, but we are only having double laning of the road. By robust common sense, we understand that it allows two vehicles to pass. If you have travelled in Ladakh and if you have moved from Leh to Kargil and Kargil to Zanskar, one would know that the high-altitude roads in Uttarakhand are not much different. Today, you have essentially a road leading to the border where only one vehicle can pass. I give you the example of Ladakh because if you are climbing and an army vehicle is descending, or even if there is a civilian vehicle, both cannot pass at one point of time. There is an unwritten code between the civilians and the army that whoever is ascending will give way to the vehicle which is descending because the vehicle which is descending has a greater danger of slippage. If this is the overall scenario which is persisting on the border roads, and I don't think there has been a very radical change since 1962, then can the court really turn its eyes into oblivion and say that this need should be ignored? You are right that the Himalayas are young mountains, mountains which are fragile, the work of any road construction on the mountains has to be carried out with a considerable degree of care. At the same time, can we really completely say that the concerns which have been expressed before the court can be disregarded by the court? Would we be justified in doing that?"

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