The ambitious Chardham highway project to provide all-weather connectivity to four pilgrimage towns of Uttarakhand today came under the scanner of the National Green Tribunal, which sought responses from the Centre and the state government on the debris being dumped on mountain slopes. A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar issued notices to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Ministry of Road Transport, National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and Uttarakhand government while seeking their replies by May 31.
The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by Birendra Singh Matura and others alleging that the road widening work to connect Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri in Uttarakhand was being carried in violation of the Bhagirathi Eco Sensitive Zone Notification. It claimed there was continuous blasting of mountains and dumping of debris in the river Ganga in the stretch of NH-34 between Gangotri and Bhaironghati.
“It is submitted that huges stones/boulders are thrown on the slopes next to the road which eventually destroy the shrubs/vegetation and also alters/affect the flow of the river when they slide down during monsoon,” the plea, filed through advocate Aaagney Sail, said. The plea has sought time-bound action plan to remove the debris thrown on the slopes next to the road in the stretch of NH-34 between Bhatwadi and Gangnani in Uttarkashi district.
According to the plea, the region was already highly unstable with numerous active landslides and any further destabilisation like the massive felling of trees would weaken the slopes to such an extent that the smallest of rain would convert them into massive active landslides. A study on slope stability carried out by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) after the June 2013 disaster in Uttarakhand had identified that a number of landslides have been activated on the Ganga river basin. In Uttarkashi, 37 landslide incidents along the NH-34 between Dharasu and Gangotri were recorded by GSI, the plea said.
“Hence any further cutting of the mountain base for widening or tree-felling would cause unprecedented activation of landslides, whose impact could block even the existing highway. Thus, being counter-productive even for traffic flow, this would impact adversely the local tourist livelihood, local daily life and transport qf border security vehicles,” the plea said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December last year had laid the foundation stone for 900-km-long Chardham highway development project to be built with an investment of Rs 12,000 crore in Uttarakhand.