Green and secure: Char Dham Highway project must see government and environmentalists work together

News: The Supreme Court has reserved its judgment on an appeal by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) regarding the Char Dham Highway Development project.

About the Char Dham Highway Development project
Must Read: What is the “Char Dham Project”?
About the case

The whole project has turned into a defence versus environment debate. The Supreme court has also asked the Environment Ministry to form a high-powered committee to look into environmental concerns. But the committee provided two sets of recommendations.

In September 2020, the court upheld the recommendations in the minority report of a high-powered committee and recommended to limit the flagship project’s carriageway to 5.5 meter.

Note: But the majority report of the same committee had agreed to a 12-meter widening (of that 7 m will be carriageway). This would involve additional deforestation, slope cutting and tunnelling.

Why the MoD is demanding the widening of roads?

1. The MoD demanded a double-lane road which is more suitable for the army, 2. Recent India-China border tensions leave India no choice but to improve its border infrastructure in the eco-sensitive Himalayan zone.

For these reasons, the ministry of road transport and highways actually amended its previous guidelines for mountainous roads to support the government’s widening plans.

Note: The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) earlier recommended 5.5-metre width for mountain roads.

Read more: Supreme Court orders committee to review ecological aspects of Chardham project
What are the consequences associated with the Char Dham project?

1. Widening the road in an eco-sensitive zone will have severe consequences for Uttarakhand, which has been grappling with major landslides and environmental degradation. Dangers of widening road were underlined twice this year, a) destruction of the Tapovan Hydro-Electric Power Dam, b) Recent floods and landslides in the state.

Read more: Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower Project

2. Uttarakhand’s ecological decline is a direct result of its increasing reliance on revenues from religious tourism. So, building road to boost tourism will definitely impact its ecology more.

3. Challenges faced by Border Roads Organisation: The four-lane highways that have been built in the upper reaches of the Himalayas already eat up large parts of the BRO’s annual budget in clearing frequent landslides.

4. India’s climate change targets: India at the recent COP26 meet in Glasgow announced ambitious climate targets. Implementation of the project might create consequences in achieving that.

Read more: Glasgow Climate Pact – Explained, pointwise
What can be done?

Work together: Government and environmentalists should work together to find a middle path, instead of standing on opposite sides.

Adopt a fresh approach for all border infrastructure: The environmental impact of projects should be included in the approach in a transparent manner.

Better conceptualise National security: The government should not see National security in terms of military needs alone. The government should see the faster environmental degradation, massive flooding and landslides and huge loss of property and lives also as national security.

Not rely on road and work on airlift: The government cannot rely on the Himalayan area for unhindered movements of troops and heavy material, such as the BrahMos. Instead, it can just be airlifted.

Source: This post is based on the following articles

  • The low road” published in Business Standard on 16th November 2021.
  • Green and secure: Char Dham Highway project must see government and environmentalists work together” published in Times of India on 16th November 2021.
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