Chardham highway project: SC asks panel to consider Defence Ministry’s plea on road widening in two weeks

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December 03, 2020 11:39 AM

The Defence Ministry in its application said that it seeks modification of the SC order as well as directions that the NHs from Rishikesh to Gangotri, Rishikesh to Mana as well as from Tanakpur to Pithoragarh may be developed to 2-lane configuration.

The 900 km long, strategic Chardham highway project aims to provide all-weather connectivity to four holy towns in the state of Uttarakhand- Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri.

Chardham highway project: On Wednesday, the committee monitoring the Chardham highway project, has been asked by the Supreme Court to consider the applications including that of the Defence Ministry seeking widening of roads up to 7 metres in the Indo-China Border area within two weeks. The 900 km long, strategic Chardham highway project aims to provide all-weather connectivity to four holy towns in the state of Uttarakhand- Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. The Ministry of Defence has sought modification of the SC’s September 8 order, which asked the Road Transport and Highways Ministry to follow the circular of 2018 stipulating carriageway width of 5.5 metre, according to a PTI report.

The bench, comprising of Justices R F Nairman, K M Joseph and Navin Sinha issued notice on all the interlocutory applications as well as listed the matter in the third week of January 2021. The Defence Ministry in its application said that it seeks modification of the SC order as well as directions that the NHs from Rishikesh to Gangotri, Rishikesh to Mana as well as from Tanakpur to Pithoragarh may be developed to 2-lane configuration.

It said that the High Powered Committee’s minority report has relied upon the Army Staff Chief’s statement that was made on September 20, 2019 to the effect that the requirement of Army, in the Bhagirathi Eco Sensitive Zone, are fulfilled adequately by the existing road itself. However, the ground situation has changed significantly from the beginning of this year. Also, it has become imperative that men as well as equipment should swiftly move from the army stations to the Indo-China border points, the Defence Ministry said. Though the requirements of the Army was mentioned in passing, unfortunately, the fact is that as on date, the state’s security itself is in jeopardy especially in the background of today’s sensitive situation existing at the Indo-China border, it further said.

According to the Defence Ministry, the circulars issued by the Road Transport and Highways Ministry dated October 5, 2012 and March 23, 2018 (on roads’ width) do not deal with roads which are important for the troops, armament, artillery and tanks’ movement to the country borders to defend the nation against aggression. It further stated that the movement would involve trucks carrying troops and equipment, and when returning from the border, the vehicles should be able to cross the vehicles going in the opposite directions without slowing down to a dead halt or causing road-blocks. Moreover, to facilitate the heavy vehicles’ movement, carrying self-propelled artillery, troops as well as various machinery required by the Army, the roads should have the capacity.

Thus, to meet the requirement of the Army, a double lane road having a carriageway width of 7 metre (or 7.5 metre width in case of raised kerb) is necessary. The nation’s security is involved and therefore, seeking modification of this court’s order has become necessary, it said. Further, the ministry pointed out that the order issued on September 8 has serious repercussions on the country’s defence and its security interests as such a width of the roads linking to the border areas cannot exceed 5.5 metres. While giving the distance from strategic border points, it said that three of roads covered by the September 8 order, namely, the road from Rishikesh to Mana, Rishikesh to Gangotri, and Tanakpur to Pithoragarh lead upto the northern border with China and act as feeder roads.

The Defence Ministry said that these three highways connect the Army/Indo Tibetan Border Police stations that are situated at Joshimath, Dehradun, Uttarkashi, Tanakpur, Roorkee, Raiwala, Pithoragarh, etc., to the Line of Actual Control/International Border with China. According to the application, these roads, especially in mountainous and hilly terrain have to be made suitable for quickly mobilizing heavy equipment such as weapons and artillery, tanks, electronic equipment requiring a motorable road. Besides, good all-weather roads are required by heavy army trucks carrying provisions for thousands of troops.

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