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Opinion

The center modifies the width of the mountainous highway citing the border link between India and China, affects the Char Dham highway

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The Union Ministry of Roads has increased the authorized width of strategically important national mountain roads that provide connectivity to the India-China border to 7 meters. The measure will affect the Char Dham road project by restoring almost its original width, which was reduced by the Supreme Court to 5.5 meters.

In a modification issued to its 2018 regulation for highways in mountainous areas, the ministry said that the width of the road should be 7 meters of lane path. In 2018, the ministry had reduced the width of the main road carriageway in mountainous terrain to a maximum of 5.5 meters to reduce the impact on the environment due to the development of the road. In September 2020, the SC confirmed the 2018 ministry regulations.

“For roads in mountainous and mountainous terrain, which act as access roads to the Indochina border or are of strategic importance for national security, the width of the carriageway should be 7 m with 1.5 m of paved shoulder at each side, “the Highway Ministry said in the new modification order issued Tuesday. The new circular further mentions: “The norms prescribed therein have been further reviewed at the Ministry in light of the issues raised by the Ministry of Defense.”

Speaking about the new circular issued by the ministry, VS Khaira, chief engineer of MoRTH Uttarakhand regional office and responsible for the Char Dham road project said: “We will now follow this new circular with a road width of 7 m. Following these new regulations, the total width of the road would be 10 m. Before the order of the Supreme Court in September, the full width of the road of 10 m “was being followed.

He said that through the sworn statement presented by the Ministry of Defense in the Supreme Court, the Center was able to explain to the court the importance of the roads and “we hope that the court will allow us” to build a 10 meter wide road.

On December 2, the Defense Ministry informed the SC that the 5.5 meter wide court order had serious repercussions on the country’s defensive readiness at the border points with China and Nepal.

Both road transport and defense ministries were hurt by the SC’s September 8 order mandating that the Char Dham road project have a 5.5 meter road width, as recommended by five members of the 26-member High Power Committee (HPC).

The committee chairman, Ravi Chopra, had written to the court on October 5 and November 2 about the constant logging by the Uttarakhand government that was causing landslides along the Char Dham route.

Also read: After SC order on Char Dham road, alignment of key turnouts will be changed

The defense ministry in an affidavit to the Supreme Court on the Char Dham highway project had said that the national highways from Rishikesh to Mana, Rishikesh to Gangotri and Tanakpur-Pithoragarh are strategic and access roads to the border between India and China. These roads are also part of the Char Dham road project.

The court had asked HPC to examine the concerns of the two ministries and submit its report within two weeks. The next hearing on the matter is January 18, 2021.

When asked if the new road width would be followed for the entire project, Hemant Dhyani, a member of the HPC minority group said: “We have discussed the new circular issued by MoRTH at our recent meeting, but we cannot commenting on anything in question is subjudicial. The HPC would present a report to the Supreme Court within a week ”.

Also read: The government’s own ministries are divided over the Char Dham road project, says SC

Environmentalists had challenged the project in the Supreme Court. They alleged that the project was divided into 100 parts to escape a mandatory comprehensive environmental review by the expert evaluation committee of the Ministry of the Environment. However, the government had claimed that it followed all environmental regulations.

The project is being developed by the Public Works Department (PWD) of the Uttarakhand government, the Border Roads Organization (BRO) and the National Highway Development and Infrastructure Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL). The road offers all-weather connectivity to four famous Hindu shrines of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.

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