March 1, 2024

Lukmaan IAS

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BYPASSING OF ENVIRONMENTAL NORMS IN THE CHARDHAM MAHAMARG VIKAS PARIYOJANA

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TAG: GS 3: ECOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT

  • THE CONTEXT: The Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojana, focusing on infrastructure development for the Kailas-Mansarovar yatra, recently came under scrutiny due to revelations of bypassing necessary environmental impact assessments (EIA).

EXPLANATION:

  • Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways, acknowledged that the environmental impact assessment norms were bypassed for civil works comprising the improvement of existing national highways in the Tanakpur to Pithoragarh section, totalling 825 kilometers.
  • Project Division:
    • The project was fragmented into 53 parts, each less than 100 kilometers, effectively avoiding the requirement for environmental impact assessments, a strategy disclosed by Gadkari.

Lack of EIA and Supreme Court Directives

  • Requirement for EIA:
    • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) guidelines state that projects involving highway expansion beyond 100 kilometers or extensive land acquisition demand prior environmental clearances.
    • However, due to the subdivision of the project, the need for EIA was circumvented.
  • Supreme Court Intervention:
    • The Supreme Court, on the application by the Union Ministry of Defence, allowed the widening of three strategically significant National Highways under the Chardham Pariyojana.
    • The court mandated a 10-meter-wide pavement for these highways.

Committees and Oversight for Environmental Assessment

  • Constitution of High-Powered Committee (HPC):
    • MoEFCC established an HPC with representatives from various institutes to analyze the cumulative and individual impact of the Chardham Projects on the Himalayan valleys.
    • The committee aims to issue directives for conducting EIA or Rapid EIA as needed.
  • Oversight Committee by Supreme Court:
    • An “Oversight Committee” was set up by the Supreme Court to ensure the implementation of recommendations from the HPC’s report.
    • This committee oversees the compliance of its suggestions in the remaining segments of the Chardham Pariyojana.

Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojana (Char Dham Highway Development Project):

  • Prime Minister laid the foundation stone of the ambitious Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojna on 27th December 2016 at Parade Ground in Dehradun.
  • The project aims at improving the connectivity to the Char Dham pilgrimage centres in the Himalayas, making journey to these centres safer, faster and more convenient.
  • The Chardham project includes developing 900 km of national highways in Uttarakhand at a total cost of Rs. 12000 crores.
  • Work for 17 projects worth Rs 3000 crores have already been sanctioned and tendered.
  • The entire length of the highways will be two-laned with paved shoulder and with a minimum width of 10 metres.
  • There will be tunnels, bypasses, bridges, subways and viaducts to prevent traffic bottlenecks.
  • A team of experts have been engaged to identify zones prone to landslides, and environment friendly techniques are being incorporated in the design to make these zones safer.
  • Wayside amenities and public facilities will be constructed all along the Chardham route, including parking spaces and helipad for emergency evacuation.

Conclusion: Environmental Compliance and Continuing Scrutiny

  • The revelation of bypassing EIA norms in the Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojayana has raised concerns regarding environmental compliance in crucial infrastructure projects.
  • The intervention of the Supreme Court and the formation of committees signify ongoing efforts to rectify this issue and ensure environmental sustainability in the project’s execution.

SOURCE: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/environment/government-admits-to-have-bypassed-environment-impact-assessments-for-chardham-project-93268

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