New Delhi: On Monday as the petition comes up before the Supreme Court challenging the decision of fresh hearing of Char Dham Highway case by National Green Tribunal (NGT) in Delhi, environmentalists and activists show deep concern for the ‘massive ecological damage’ that they say is being caused by the ongoing work in Char Dham Yatra Marg project in Uttarakhand.
“Such frequent landslides were never seen in hills before as we are witnessing this time during monsoon, after the work for widening of the road started in yatra marg. Thousands of trees have been cut down, and no norms were followed while cutting the hills and dumping the debris to build this highway,” says Soumya Prasad, a Dehradun-based tropical ecologist working on environmental issues in Himalaya.
(Road construction work on Char Dham Yatra Marg in Uttarakhand)
The hearing against the Char Dham Yatra project was completed on May 31 this year by the bench headed by Justice Jawad Rahim, the then acting chairman of tribunal. The judgment was pending but Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, the new chairman of NGT who assumed charge on June 9 this year, has decided to hear the case afresh.
Petitioners have appealed in the apex court against this decision of fresh hearing by tribunal citing existing judicial laws.
“The decision which is reserved (in this case) should have been pronounced by now but as they are re-hearing the entire case afresh this is against the judicial norms. We are going to challenge this in the Supreme Court,” said Sanjay Parekh, senior counsel who had also argued the case in the NGT for the petitioner Citizens for Green Doon.
“Ultimately the delay in decision is causing problem for the local people and causing destruction of environment as we have seen the flouting of rule at several levels,” Parekh said.
The founding stone for this highway project was laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December 2016. The 900-km long highway will cost Rs 12000 crore and it is meant to connect four major Hindu shrines — Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri — with Rishikesh in Uttarakhand.
While both the Centre as well as state government has been touting this project as a state-of-the-art highway which will provide an “all weather” two lane highway, questions have been raised for no compliance of environmental norms and laws. During the hearing in NGT petitioners provided documentary and video evidence of non-compliance of muck dumping rules and said no working orders were obtained from forest department to cut the thousands of trees.
At a time when the Char Dham Highway project is being questioned for non-compliance of environmental rules and norms in a highly sensitive Himalayan zone, an expert report has also brought out a warning. UK’s Sheffield University researchers have published a report saying India is among the most affected countries by the deadly landslides caused by human activities. The report says, Asia’s 20% of the most fatal landslides triggered by human activities happen in India.