The five-year-old Char Dham Pariyojana (CDP), which was the government’s flagship project to link the four pilgrimage sites of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath, has now suddenly become the center of defense needs. When the Jolly Grant airport extension project in Dehradun, falling into the Shivalik elephant corridor and considered an eco-sensitive area of Rajaji National Park, and requiring the felling of around ten thousand trees, s’ is refused green permits, it has suddenly transformed from a project to a major defense project; when the proposed Kandi route through Jim Corbett National Park was in a similar situation, rejected even by the Supreme Court, it quickly became important for defense; now it is the turn of the CDP, which is a tourist project and whose large road width has been rejected and reduced by the Supreme Court, to gain in “strategic importance”. Yet the central concern is not with brutal defensive interventions – the point that is raised ad nauseum is the massive slope failures, landslides and devastation caused by cutting hills for the project, as far as the project is concerned. where a once stable but narrower road has become vulnerable. , unpredictable, ravaged by landslides, disaster prone, and unfit for all commuters, including the military.
The more than Rs 12,000 crore project, which ambitiously proposed a 10-meter two-lane highway known as the ‘double-lane paved shoulder’ (DL-PS), crossing the steep and fragile valleys of the Himalayas sparked concerns even before the cut of the vertical slope triggers the first landslide. A group of concerned local citizens approached NGT in 2018 with the far-sighted advocacy of a narrower road width, without general widening. Using common sense, they said: “Any further cutting of the base of the mountain for widening or cutting down trees would cause an unprecedented activation of landslides that could block even the existing highway. which would be counterproductive even for normal circulation. In addition, it would have a negative impact on local livelihoods, local daily life and vehicle transport related to border security. To this, appallingly, the MoRTH (Ministry of Roads and Transport) responded in March 2018: “This is a general statement. No specific issue was raised and therefore does not need to be commented on. Today, after three years of work, on October 17, 2020, the MoRTH officially reported 200 landslides along this road. And that doesn’t even include the many that have happened this year. The situation after that monsoon was so serious that on October 25 this year a local newspaper reported: “Unsuccessful all-season road, 9 km stretch in Chalthi will require alternate alignment. Total 112 times closed in 90 monsoon days. Even CDP roads leading to the border have been repeatedly closed due to recurring landslides, compromising our defense mobility.
Located in the fragile Gangotri Valley, is the eco-sensitive area of Bhagirathi, the birthplace of Ganga. Three hydropower projects have been canceled here to protect the last pristine stretch of the Ganges. Strict regulations have so far protected the ecological zone. Since no hill cutting for road widening has yet started here, this is the only valley of the four that has reported almost no landslides this monsoon. The movement of the army was therefore not hampered either. This shows exactly how damaging CDP is. The DL-PS design that one seeks to implement here too would simply ravage this steep and earthquake-prone area. The enormous mud generated and usually dumped on the slopes, in this case in the crystal-clear Bhagirathi, would itself be catastrophic for the river. Our united efforts to preserve this important basin and our sacred national river for the future would be dashed.
When applicants initially went to court in 2018, barely 2-5% of the work was complete. At the time, not only did the MoRTH conceal a vital circular specifically stating that for hilly terrain the DL-PS was not suitable and that a narrower intermediate width IW (5.5m) was appropriate, it continued to cut vertically slope after slope for the wide DL-PS. Then the Supreme Court formulated a High Level Committee (HPC) to examine the Himalayan Ecology Preservation Project. Here, too, the circular was covered up and HPC members associated with the government voted en bloc for the destructive DL-PS, ignoring their own massive report detailing the havoc caused by meeting such a standard. However, the president and a minority of independent experts voted for IW. The Supreme Court found their scientific reasoning to be correct and ordered that the IW be applied both retrospectively and prospectively.
Suddenly, the Ministry of Defense intervened and claimed the strategic importance of nearly 70% of the CDP as feeder roads leading to the border, and thus requiring a DL-PS width. The crucial point repeatedly raised by the petitioners and the minority HPC is that such disaster-prone, frequently blocked roads with chronic and recurring landslides are not suitable for ordinary travel, let alone defense mobility, or the BrahMos missile. The Himalayas have a limit at which they can be altered; crossing that line is what triggered the unprecedented breaks in slope we are seeing today. And surely, the transport, deployment and storage of these missiles were also planned during the manufacture of this missile, which was long before the CDP. Surely don’t we depend on these fragile, narrow mountain roads to carry medium-range missiles that can be fired from the sea, from the plains, and can be carried in the air?
“Disaster resilient infrastructure” is what our Prime Minister stressed in Glasgow. How are the roads that are too wide, flowing, unstable and deforested slopes vulnerable to the slightest rain, used for this?
Who is responsible for the irreversible damage to the Himalayas, the loss of human life and the far-reaching consequences that citizens will suffer for decades to come? Who is responsible for the work carried out despite the HPC directives, in violation of the orders of the Supreme Court and in direct violation of the circular of 2018 in force at the time? Who is responsible for the crores destroyed in the collapse of roads and in dealing with recurring landslides? Who will bear the recurring costs? How will these roads bear the brunt of climate change? Should defense respond to how it proposes to deal with recurring and unpredictable landslides that have proven to be beyond mitigation?
No one intends to go beyond the demands of the defense, but simply to ask why a technically unfeasible road that is just not possible on hilly terrain, as stated by engineers, experts and even observed by the common sense of the ordinary citizen, is so irrationally, insisted dangerously and rigidly. Even if one were foolish enough to allow the devastation of the Himalayas for a wide road, it would still be a sinking, landslide road, frequently blocked, unfit for use and a threat to life. human, as has been seen and reported. So it’s not at all a question of Environment versus Defense. The CDP dodged the environmental impact assessment (EIA) by dividing a single project into 53 parts, all less than 100 km, and misleading the court. So, on the contrary, going beyond all logic, all science, it is an authoritarian case of the defense of the indefensible.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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