A plea seeking a time-bound muck disposal plan for the Chardham highway project, which aims to provide all-weather connectivity to four shrines of Uttarakhand, led the National Green Tribunal today to seek replies from the Centre and the state government.
A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel issued notices to the Environment Ministry, Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways and Uttarakhand government on a plea moved by an NGO alleging illegalities in procurement of environmental clearances.
The matter will now come up for hearing on August 26.
The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by NGO Common Cause seeking directions to submit a time-bound muck disposal plan at the earliest and bar the project proponent from constructing a road until proper disposal of muck already generated was undertaken.
"The respondents in the Chardham highway project, which entails road widening and construction of approximately 900 km of national highways, have bypassed the legal requirement of conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
"They have done so by falsely claiming that the road widening and construction are being carried on different stretches of less than 100 kms, whereas in reality the entire operation should be considered as a single project," the plea submtted.
It alleged that the road widening work to connect Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri in Uttarakhand was being carried in violation of environmental laws.
Advocate Gaurav Bansal, appearing for the NGO, contended that the debris, generated during construction of road under the Chardham project along NH 108, was being directly thrown along the slopes next to the road which slides down directly into the river.
Bansal said that during the road construction, the Ministry of Road Transport was dumping muck in an unscientific and irrational manner.
"This process will be much faster with the onset of monsoons, thereby causing concerns of an impending disaster in the form of landslides and flooding. Indiscriminate muck dumping into the river also raises concerns about excessive pollution in the river and alteration of its course," the plea said.
The NGO also alleged that indiscriminate chopping of trees like deodar, pine etc. was being undertaken for the highway project and the exact number of axed trees was not available as forest clearances have been applied for in segments by the project proponent.
The plea has sought directions to bring on record all the documents pertaining to diversion of forest land in the highway project with regard to the total number of trees that will be cut, the hill slopes expected to be cut and the number of trees already chopped.
The tribunal had last year disposed a similar plea challenging the project after Border Roads Organisation (BRO) assured the NGT that they would carry out the project after due compliance with laws, especially the Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone notification of December 18, 2012.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December 2016 had laid the foundation stone for 900-km-long Chardham highway development project to be built with an investment of Rs 12,000 crore in Uttarakhand.