Char Dham highway project

Headline : Supreme Court clears 900km Char Dham highway project

Details :

In News

  • The Supreme Court has cleared the Chardham highway project, by modifying an NGT order.
  • It has also ordered to constitute a fresh committee to look into environmental concerns related to the project.
  • It ordered the Ministry of Environment and Forests to form the high-powered committee (HPC).

Background

  • After the project got approval, petitions were filed at the National Green Tribunal (NGT), seeking a stay on the Char Dham project. They said the project violated the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2006.
  • In September, 2018, the NGT gave its conditional approval to the project in view of larger public interest.
  • Some non-profit group had filed a petition against the NGT order in the Supreme Court saying the project would cause an irreversible damage to regional ecology.

News Summary

Supreme Court’s decision

  • Supreme Court has only modified the September NGT order by constituting a fresh high-powered committee (HPC).
  • In addition to this, the court added representatives from Physical Research Laboratory under the government’s Department of Space, Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India, MoEF (from Dehradun regional office) and Defence Ministry to the HPC.
  • The top court asked the committee to submit its recommendations within four months.
  • The HPC shall hold quarterly meetings thereafter to ensure compliance and may suggest any further measures after each review meeting.

Committee’s mandate

  • The committee shall consider the cumulative and independent impact of the Chardham project on the entire Himalayan valleys.
  • It will give directions to conduct Environmental Impact Assessment by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH).
  • The committee will consider whether revision of the full Chardham project should take place with a view to minimize the adverse impact on the environment and social life.
  • It will identify the sites where quarrying has started and recommend measures required to stabilise the area and for safe disposal of muck.
  • It will also assess the environmental degradation – loss of forest lands, trees, green cover, water resources etc. – on the wildlife and will direct mitigation measures.
  • The HPC will also suggest the areas in which afforestation should be taken and the kind of saplings to be planted.

About: Char Dham Highway Project

  • The Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojna, or the Chardham highway project, is an initiative to improve connectivity to the Char Dham pilgrimage centres (Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath) in the Himalayas.
  • The Prime Minister had launched the construction of the Char Dham Mahamarg in December, 2016, as a tribute to those who died in the 2013 Kedarnath disaster. 
  • The project will develop around 900 km of national highways in Uttarakhand at an approximate cost of Rs 12,000 crore.
  • It involves widening the existing, geometrically deficient highway that connects the four abodes.
  • Apart from widening, it plans to improve the stretches to two-lane carriageway with paved shoulders, protect landslide hazard zones, construct bypasses, long bridges, tunnels and elevated corridors to ensure safety for the users.

Advantages

  • The project will make travel to Char Dham safer and more convenient. Connectivity & tourism will get a strong boost through the project.
  • Proper slope stabilisation will ensure protection against landslides.
  • The project is also important from a strategic point of view as it is close to the China border.
  • In the eventuality of any aggression, improved roads will facilitate movement of heavy weapons, equipments and artillery guns.

Concerns

  • It is an extremely fragile region. The area forms the Main Central Thrust of the Lesser Himalayan region. This is where the Indian tectonic plate goes under the Eurasian Tectonic Plate.
  • The phenomenon makes the region susceptible to earthquakes and landslides.
  • The Geological Survey of India corroborates this in its report prepared after the Kedarnath disaster.
  • It states that road construction in mountains reactivates landslides as it disturbs the toe of the natural slope of the hill.

About: Char Dham

  • Char Dham refers to the 4 pilgrimage centres – Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath – in the Himalayas, in the state of Uttarakhand.

Badrinath

  • Badrinath or Badrinarayan Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and situated in the town of Badrinath in Uttarakhand.
  • The temple is located in Garhwal hill tracks in Chamoli district along the banks of Alaknanda River.
  • The temple and town form one of the four Char Dham sites.
  • The temple is also one of the 108 Divya Desams, the holy shrines for Vaishnavites, dedicated to Vishnu (who is worshipped as Badrinath).
  • It is open for six months every year (between the end of April and the beginning of November), because of extreme weather conditions in the Himalayan region.

Kedarnath

  • Kedarnath Temple is a Hindu temple (shrine) dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest Hindu shrines of Shiva.
  • It is located in the Garhwal Himalayan range near the Mandakini river, in Uttarakhand.
  • Kedarnath is seen as a homogenous form of Lord Shiva, the ‘Lord of Kedar Khand’, the historical name of the region.
  • Due to extreme weather conditions, the temple is open to the general public only between the months of April (Akshaya Tritriya) and November (Kartik Purnima, the autumn full moon).

Gangotri

  • Gangotri is a town and a Nagar Panchayat (municipality) in Uttarkashi district in the state of Uttarakhand.
  • It is a Hindu pilgrim town on the banks of the river Bhagirathi and origin of River Ganges. It is on the Greater Himalayan Range, at a height of 3,100 metres.
  • According to popular Hindu legend, it was here that Goddess Ganga descended when Lord Shiva released the mighty river from the locks of his hair.
  • The river is called Bhagirathi at the source and acquires the name Ganga (the Ganges) from Devprayag onwards where it meets the Alaknanda.
  • The origin of the holy river is at Gaumukh, set in the Gangotri Glacier, and is 19 kms from Gangotri. The temple is closed from Diwali every year and is reopened in May.

Yamunotri

  • Yamunotri Temple is situated in the western region of Garhwal Himalayas at an altitude of 3,291 metres in Uttarkashi district, Uttarakhand.
  • River Yamuna originates at Yamunotri.
  • The temple is dedicated to Goddess Yamuna and has a black marble idol of the goddess.

Section : Environment & Ecology

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