NEW DELHI: A majority of members, 21 of 26, of the Supreme Court-appointed high-powered committee have supported widening of the Char Dham road to a 10-metre tarred surface (7-metre main carriageway and 3-metre paved shoulder) considering the "security interests of the nation".
Four members of the panel, including its chairman and environmentalist Ravi Chopra, have recommended the road width to be 5.5 metres (intermediary lane). One member has recommended that the national highways from Rishikesh to Gangotri, Rishikesh to Mana and Tanakpur to Pithoragarh should be widened to 10 metres, but a flexible approach be adopted in areas like the Bhagirathi eco sensitive zone to minimise damage to forest and wildlife habitat. The member secretary of the panel has not given any view.
The SC had directed the HPC to deliberate on the defence ministry’s interlocutory application in the court to allow widening of the road to a two-lane main carriageway, which is 7 metres, to meet strategic requirements. The report was submitted to the SC on December 31 and the court is likely to take up the issue on January 18.
Last month, the ministry of road transport and highways issued a fresh circular modifying its 2018 circular on the width of roads in hilly states. It said for roads in hilly and mountainous terrain, which act as feeder roads to the China border or are of strategic importance for national security, the carriageway width should be 7 metres with 1.5-metre paved shoulders on either side. The 2018 circular had specified that the road width in such terrains should be 5.5 metres.
The three minority members have concluded in their report, "After reviewing all arguments presented on behalf of the MoD’s application and the deliberations during the meeting, we are not persuaded to accept the plea that the original 2018 circular, prior to the amendment dated December 15, 2020, should be overlooked nor are we persuaded to request this honourable court to change their order dated September 8, 2020. We request that the prayer by the MoD may be reconsidered keeping in mind the long-term impacts on the fragile Himalayan terrain and the sensitive ecosystems."
In its presentation before the HPC, an MoD representative had shown the pictures of tank transporter and artillery equipment, which may be required to be transported to border locations in case of exigency. Linear dimensions of such large vehicles and equipment require road geometrics of minimum two-lane specifications.