Split on Char Dham project, SC panel submits 2 reports

There is a vertical divide in the Supreme Court appointed committee on Char Dham highway project over some issues including the road width, which has led the panel to submit two different reports to the environment, forest and climate change ministry (MoEF&CC).
While the “Main Report” signed by its chairman, environmentalist Ravi Chopra and other four members has favoured “intermediate carriageway of 5.5 meter” citing a road ministry circular of March 23, 2018, another report submitted by 16 main and five co-opted members of the panel has recommended road width of “double lane with paved shoulder”, which works out to 10 meter. The final decision will impact at least 152 km of the 826-km project.
The two reports were submitted to the MoEF&CC this week. Sources said in such a situation, the issue would end up in the SC again.
The majority members’ “Final Report” has flagged how the majority view was ignored by the chairman despite SC direction. But Chopra in his report has said, “The majority seems to believe that what it decides is final, even if it violates the law, the Supreme Court and causes irreversible and permanent damage to the Himalayas.”
While clearing the way for the road project in August 2019, the apex court had constituted a fresh high-powered committee (HPC) to address environmental concerns under Chopra. The road transport ministry is yet to sanction work for 13 stretches and HPC recommendation is mandatory to give go ahead in the case of eight stretches.
In their “Final Report” the 21 members have said the panel’s chairman modified the manuscripts of a few chapters ignoring that these were discussed and approved in earlier meetings and he had also redrafted a few chapters “in a manner to undermine/suppress the majority view.”
Terming Chopra’s attitude as “rigid and undemocratic”, the report said the members discussed the matter on July 8 and 9 to finalise the report. It said, “So much so, the chairman tried to leave the issue pertaining to road width for decision of the Supreme Court whereas the same was finally decided by majority voting. By such an act the chairman tried to drag the whole matter once again to the Supreme Court by defeating the very purpose of constituting the HPC by the SC,” the report said.
But Chopra in his “Main Report” has referred to a road ministry’s circular of 2018, which had recommended adopting ‘intermediate carriageway of 5.5 meter” for hilly terrains. He has said this was discovered by some members after the critical discussion on ‘road width’. He said, had the circular been available earlier there would have been no voting. Chopra, in his report, said he sought members’ opinion in view of 2018 circular, but 13 of them still supported double lane with paved shoulder, notwithstanding the evidence.
Stating that the division of the HPC as unfortunate for the Himalayas, Chopra said the allegation of undermining the majority vote was unfortunate. “If the majority chooses to tread a path which contradicts the court’s directions and TORs and even ignores MoRTH’s own 2018 circular, I believe that the most judicious way is to leave it to the wisdom of the Supreme Court. That is what I have done.”

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