14, Feb 2022
Prelims level : National Conservation & Mitigation Mains level : GS-III Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.
Why in News?
- 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:
- It is a programme taken up by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways for connectivity improvement for Chardham (Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri) in Uttrakhand and part of the route leading to Kailash Mansarovar Yatra.
- The cost of the project is around 12,000 Crore.
- It envisages improvement as well as development of 889 km length of national Highways.
- Implementing Agencies are Uttarakhand State Public Works Department (PWD), BRO and the National Highway & Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL).
- The work under the programme is being implemented on Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) mode.
- Under the EPC mode, the project cost is completely borne by the Government.
- However, the contractor is directly responsible for ensuring quality of the work as well as rectification of defects and maintenance of the project stretch for a period of 4 years after completion of construction.
Developments so far with Respect to the Chardham Project:
- The Foundation stone for the Char Dham road project was laid by PM Narendra Modi in December 2016.
- 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.
- 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 Supreme Court stayed the NGT order in October 2018.
- 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.
- 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.
Impact of Developmental Projects in Himalayas:
- Himalayas are the world’s youngest mountain range. They are prone to erosion, landslides and seismic activity and rainstorms lashed the region. Therefore, this region is vulnerable and fragile.
- There is a clear link between climate change and changing rainfall patterns in the Scientists are now certain that rainfall in India will become more extreme. There are higher possibilities of cloudbursts and “unprecedented” high rainfall over the region.
- There is a link between the disaster and the manner in which “development” has been carried out in this ecologically fragile region. E.g hydropower projects. Currently, there are roughly 70 projects built or proposed on the Ganga. Hence the river would be modified through diversion to tunnels or reservoirs to such an extent that 80 per cent of the Bhagirathi and 65 percent of the Alaknanda could be “affected”.
- The construction itself would have devastating impacts on the mountains – because of blasting to build tunnels and Also construction is carried out without the necessary precautions, thus the risk of landslides increases. The situation is the same when it comes to the building of roads, buildings or mining for minerals. Cases of illegal mining and construction are becoming familiar.
- Tourism is being considered as the major engine driving the economy of Himalayan states which has provided valuable economic and livelihood opportunities to the locals and profits for the state governments. On the other hand, air and noise pollution, overbooked hotels, increasing and unregulated tourist footfall, Urbanization, haphazard infrastructure non-availability of parking places, and local water and energy security are becoming recurrent problems.
- Over exploitation of natural resources, food insecurity, ill-planned urbanization, loss of indigenous culture, natural disasters, increase in Municipal sewage are impacting the Himalayan ecology. Cold climate in the mountains also restricts faster decomposition of garbage, thus often leading to their Draining into Rivers.
- This contaminates aquatic life downstream and degrades the quality of the river water on which depends a large population. Places like Shimla are already battling with water crisis and outbreak of waterborne hepatitis because of improper sewage and garbage management.
About Border Roads Organisation:
- It was conceived and raised in 1960 by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for coordinating the speedy development of a network of roads in the North and the North Eastern border regions of the country.
- It works under the administrative control of the Ministry of Defence.
- It has diversified into a large spectrum of construction and development works comprising airfields, Building Projects, Defence works and tunneling and has endeared itself to the People.