Environmentalists are understandably upset at the Supreme Court judgment clearing the widening of the Char Dham highway project, but the top court has done well to balance national security imperatives and the need to protect and preserve the flora and fauna of ecologically fragile Uttarakhand. The judgment comes only a few months after news reports of Chinese army troops coming about 50 kilometres inside Indian territory in the state’s remote villages of Uttarkashi.
The reports were neither officially acknowledged nor denied. India’s armed forces have in fact been dealing valiantly with an ever-aggressive China for more than a year now. Beijing’s expansionist designs led to the Galwan Valley clash in Ladakh that left 20 Indian soldiers and an unaccounted number of Chinese troops dead. There are also reports of China having beefed up its infrastructure in the Doklam area of Bhutan. It is because of these national security concerns that the SC has given the go-ahead to widen the roads so that swift movement of troops is possible in case of any expediency.
But this does not mean that the views of the environmentalists are bogus. There can be no denying that in the name of development, Uttarakhand’s forests have been plundered by rapacious developers in connivance with corrupt government officials. Dams, highways, hotels and homes have been built with little thought to their long-term environmental impact. Global warming has only made things worse with increasing incidents of melting of glaciers, lake bursts and unseasonal rainfall.
Data compiled by the Uttarakhand Disaster Management Authority is in itself telling. From 2015 to June 2021, Uttarakhand has witnessed more than 10,000 extreme weather events, including rainfall, cloudbursts and landslides. Given this grim scenario, the court has appointed a committee headed by retired judge Justice A K Sikri to monitor the concerns flagged by a high-powered panel that the court itself had earlier set up. The onus is now on the committee to enforce all the rules and guidelines so that there is no repeat of February’s Chamoli disaster that washed away villages and power projects, killing scores of people.