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Majority in favour of expanding width of Char Dham roads to 10 m at HPC meeting

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By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 17 Dec: After concluding the two day hearing with different stakeholders in respect of the All Weather Char Dham road project, yesterday, the high powered committee is likely to submit its report to the Supreme Court in about a week’s time. The Supreme Court will take a final decision on the width of the road project.
It may be recalled that the Supreme Court had earlier reduced the width of the roads from 12 metres to 5 metres, thereby, affecting the overall utility of the entire project. This case has been filed by some environmentalists. The High Powered committee is headed by noted environmentalist Dr Ravi Chopra.
Meanwhile, the state government and the Centre, both hold the opinion that the reduced road width of 5 metres would badly affect the interests of the country as this is a strategically important road project linking the Indo China border. In subsequent hearings, however, the Court had appointed a high powered committee to report to it after hearing the various stakeholders and had agreed to allow the width to be increased to 7.5 metres. However, even this was objected to by some of the environmentalists. During the meeting, too, the opinions were sharply divided. While the environmentalists wanted the Court to stick to its original order of 5 metres, others felt that most of the work on the road project had already been done; most trees which had to be felled had already been felled; and the most of the road cutting work had already been done. Therefore, there was no logic now in reducing the width to 5 metres, most of the work having already been completed.
Several also supported the Ministry of Defence opinion that, in view of the strategic requirements of the country, the width of the road project be again expanded as per the recent amended circular of the Union Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, which increased the width of roads in the hills and mountains to 10 metres up from 5 metres in the original circular of the year 2018. Sources claim that the amendment had been effected at the request of the defence ministry, which felt that the 281 km long stretch between Rishikesh and Mana, 231 km long stretch from Rishikesh to Gangotri and the 162 km long stretch between Tanakpur to Pithoragarh, part of the All Weather Char Dham road project, are strategic road links up to Northern border of China and are the main feeder roads.
Others at the meeting also pointed out that, despite the fact that the All Weather Road project had been approved much before the original circular of the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways in the year 2018 restricting maximum road width of highways in the hills and mountains to 5.5 metres, it wasn’t simply applicable at all and ought not to have been considered at all by the High Powered Committee when it had last met in the month of September. They further said that, with the 2018 circular having been amended allowing up to 10 metre wide roads in the hills, it ought to be taken into account, though the environmentalists in the committee continued to disagree.
Sources also claimed that many of the committee members had no deep roots in Uttarakhand and, therefore, were not concerned about the development needs of the state. Sources also further claimed that the majority at the meeting held the view that the width needed to be expanded in the greater national and strategic interest and also because most of the work related to road cutting and tree felling was over. The second day of the meeting lasted more than 8 hours, yesterday. Now the committee is expected to submit its report to the Apex Court which will take the final call on the issue soon enough.