By Sumit Saxena
New Delhi, Dec 2 : The Ministry of Defence, seeking expansion of road width in the Chardham highway project in Uttarakhand, told the Supreme Court that situation on the ground at the India-China border has changed significantly this year and it has become imperative that men and equipment should move swiftly from army stations to the frontier.
“The security of the state itself is in jeopardy especially in the background of today’s sensitive situation existing at the Chinese border,” the Ministry said in an application, filed through advocate Rajat Nair.
Emphasising on widening the road, the application added that the movement would involve trucks carrying troops and equipment, and when the vehicles are returning from the border, they should be able to cross the vehicles going in the opposite direction without causing road-blocks or slowing down to a dead halt.
The Centre said the roads should have the capacity to facilitate the movement of heavy vehicles carrying troops, self-propelled artillery and various machinery required by the Army.
Against the backdrop of prevailing conditions on the border, it said the need for wider roads with double land configuration is felt to enable faster mobilisation of troops, guns and specialist weapon systems to the border areas.
The ministry said a double lane road having a carriageway width of 7 meters (or 7.5m in case there is a raised kerb) is necessary to meet the requirement of the Army.
“The very security of the nation is involved and therefore it has become necessary to seek modification of this court order of September 8, 2020,” said the application.
The Centre cited that this order of the top court, that the width of the roads connecting to the border areas cannot exceed 5.5 metres, has serious repercussions on the defence of the country and its security interests.
Three roads covered by this order – Rishikesh to Gangotri, Rishikesh to Mana and Tanakpur to Pithoragarh – lead up to the northern border with China and act as feeder roads.
On September 8, the top court had directed that the width of hilly and mountainous terrains for the Char Dham Highway project to be constructed in accordance with the 2018 circular of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
The Centre now argued that the Road Transport and Highways Ministry circulars did not deal with security needs of the country by way of roads
The application said: “The roads need to be developed in such a manner so as to allow quick movement to the border points and ensure that the armed forces /troops are not overtaken by swift enemy movements in addition to improvement of substandard curves.”
The application added that in view of the recent off with Nepal on the Lipulekh side in 2020, all sectors are highly sensitive. The Defence Ministry also added that the Army has been using these roads post the war with China in 1962.
During the hearing on the matter on Wednesday, the Supreme Court asked the High Powered Committee (HPC) set up by it to consider the applications filed before the court by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, contended that it was only a minority view of the HPC that the 2018 circular be complied with.
A bench comprising Justices R. F. Nariman, Navin Sinha and K. M. Joseph asked the HPC to share a detailed report within a week after the meeting, and for the MoD and the MoRTH to comment on it.
(Sumit Saxena can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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