New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday March 11 appointed former top court judge A.K. Sikri as chairperson of the High Powered Committee (HPC) to examine the impact of the Chardham project on the entire Himalayan valley.
A bench comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant accepted the resignation of professor Ravi Chopra, who was the chairperson of the committee.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, representing the Centre, submitted that Justice Sikri has already been leading the oversight committee, and suggested the court should appoint him as the chairperson. The bench agreed to the AG’s suggestion and appointed Justice (retd) Sikri as chairperson of the HPC.
In December last year, the top court constituted an oversight committee to ensure all remedial measures are taken in the interest of the environment and the recommendations of the high-power committee are implemented in the project. In January, Chopra had written a letter expressing his desire to resign from the post.
On December 14, last year, the top court allowed double lane paved shoulder configuration for Chardham road project, a prestigious project for the NDA government, taking into consideration the recent security challenges, at Indo-China border, and the strategic importance of having double-lane roads for swift movement of armed forces. The top court pointed out that there is no mala fide in the application filed by the Ministry of Defence to widen the roads for the operational requirement of the armed forces.
In August 2019, the top court appointed Chopra as chairperson of the HPC.
The top court order came on a plea filed by an NGO Citizens for Green Doon’ seeking direction to stop felling of trees without clearances on the Ganeshpur-Dehradun Road (NH-72A), which is a part of the Delhi-Dehradun expressway.
In 2018, the Centre’s notification said that the road width cannot exceed 5.5 meters in the hilly terrains like the one through which Chardham project is proposed. In September 2020, the top court directed the government to keep the width of the Chardham road at 5.5 meters.
In December, 2020, the Defence Ministry had sought permission from the top court to widen roads for national security, and contended that three national highways — Rishikesh to Mana, Rishikesh to Gangotri and Tanakpur to Pithoragarh — lead up to the northern border with China, which act as feeder roads. The Chardham highway is a 900-kilometre road project to provide all-weather connectivity to four Hindu pilgrimage centres in Uttarakhand.