The Supreme Court has reserved its decision on widening of roads that are part of the 899-km Char Dham project in Uttarakhand. The court has asked both sides -- the Center and the petitioner non-profit -- to file their written suggestions within two days. The non-profit has asked the court to stop the widening of roads.
The Centre, citing the Chinese build-up on the other side, has appealed for widening the road, which, it said, are feeder roads for the border roads and are of great strategic importance.
Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for Centre, said "These are inhospitable terrains where Army needs to move heavy vehicles, machineries, weapons, missiles, tanks, troops and food supplies. Our Brahmos missile is 42 feet long and needs large vehicles to carry its launchers. If the Army cannot move its missile launchers and machineries upto the northern China border, then how will it fight a war, if it breaks out". He said, "God forbid if the war breaks out then how will the Army deal with it if it does not have its weapons. We have to be careful and on guard. We are to remain prepared. Our Defence Minister attended Indian Road Congress and had said that the Army needs disaster-resilient roads".
The Centre has also sought amendment to the top court's order of September 2020, in which the judges kept the Char Dham roads limited to 5.5 meters. The Centre has argued that the roads should be widened up to 10 meters.
During the hearing on November 9, the judges had said the issue was nuanced and the needs of defence and environment have to be balanced.
"Defence concerns cannot be over-ridden especially in light of border incidents in the recent past," Justice DY Chandrachud said.
Representing the Centre, Attorney General KK Venugopal said "We do not want the troops to be caught in 1962 situation" .
"Wide roads are of strategic importance. Trucks carrying artillery, rocket launchers and tanks may have to pass through these roads," the Centre had said, pointing out that China is building "helipads and buildings on the other side".
The petitioner has argued that the army never sought widening of roads. "Someone high up in political power wanted highways on the Char Dham yatra. And the army then became a reluctant participant".
The Char Dham highway project which connects the four shrines of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath in Garhwal Himalayas, has 899-km road which the Centre wants to broaden near Dehradun.
The non-profit Citizens for Green Doon had opposed the road-widening, citing the felling of trees in the wildlife-rich area that's leading to increasing instances of landslides.