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Char Dham:

GS Paper 2:

Topics Covered: Indian culture – salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

 

Context:

Veteran environmentalist Ravi Chopra has resigned as chairman of the Supreme Court’s High Powered Committee (HPC) on the Char Dham project, saying that his “belief that the HPC could protect this fragile (Himalayan) ecology has been shattered”.

 

What’s the issue?

In his resignation letter to the secretary general of the Supreme Court on January 27, Chopra referred to the apex court’s December 2021 order that accepted the wider road configuration to meet defence needs, instead of what the HPC had recommended and the SC accepted in its earlier order in September 2020.

 

What has the Court said so far in this matter?

  • In 2018, the project was challenged by an NGO for its potential impact on the Himalayan ecology due to felling trees, cutting hills and dumping excavated material.
  • In 2019, the SC formed the HPC Chopra to examine the issues, and in September 2020, accepted his recommendation on road width etc.
  • In November 2020, the ministry of Defence sought wider roads to meet the requirement of the Army.
  • In December 2021, the SC modified its September 2020 order on the ground that the court could not “interrogate the policy choice of the establishment which is entrusted by law with the defence of the nation”.

 

About Chardham project:

  • The project involves developing and widening nearly 900-km of national highways connecting the holy Hindu pilgrimage sites of; Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri at an estimated cost of Rs.12,000 crores.
  • The highway will be called Char Dham Mahamarg(Char Dham Highway) and the highway construction project will be called Char Dham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojana(Char Dham Highway Development Project).

 

 

What Are The Environmental Concerns That Were Flagged?

  1. Large-scale construction works in hilly terrain is a recipe for disaster as it leads to a heightened risk of landslides given the felling of trees and loosening of rocks.
  2. The project was being executed bypassing mandatory environment clearances and environment impact assessment (EIA) procedures.
  3. Over 25,000 trees have reportedly been felled to make way for the project as a grave worry for the ecologically sensitive zone.
  4. Since wider carriageways would require more excavation and blasting, the purpose of having an all-weather highway may be compromised since the topography would become that much more sensitive to slippage and landslides.

 

Developments so far wrt the Chardham Project:

  1. The foundation stone for the Char Dham road project was laid by PM Narendra Modi in December 2016.
  2. But the project was challenged on environmental grounds in courts with petitioners alleging irregularities vis-a-vis environmental clearances for the project and that it was being pursued in violation of existing norms.
  3. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) cleared the project in September 2018, but its order was challenged for being passed by a bench different from the one that had heard the matter. Supreme Court stayed the NGT order in October 2018.
  4. In September 2020, it passed an order on a writ petition stating that highways for the Char Dham project should not exceed 5.5m in width as prescribed in a 2018 circular of the Union Road Transport Ministry. But the Defence Ministry had in December that year sought a modification in the order to allow the width to be of 10m.
  5. The top court then asked its high-powered committee (HPC) to look into the contentions raised by the Centre on the width of the highways.

 

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Overview of the project.
  2. Important National Parks and wildlife sanctuaries in the region.
  3. Important rivers flowing through these places.
  4. Difference between National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries.

Mains Link:

Discuss the significance of Chardham Project.

Sources: the Hindu.