The Centre on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that China has made a huge build-up in the Tibet region and the Army needs broader roads to move heavy vehicles up to the India-China border to avoid a 1962 war-like situation. The Supreme Court was hearing a petition filed by an NGO against a section of Char Dham all-season roads being constructed in the strategically important region.
Speaking exclusively to India TV, Union Minister of Road Transport and Highway Nitin Gadkari said, "We have completed about 670 kms of work... as you know that when Uttarakhand flood tragedy happened after a cloud burst, mountains were damaged, many people lost their lives, so this shouldn't happen again... we are constructing all-season roads so that people can travel to Char Dham yatras around the year."
"We have discussed with international consultants from Switzerland and tried to analyse the problems, made new DPR and started the project... now there is a stretch of about 240 kms where some environmentalists are having issues with the width of the road... the problem is there is China which has fully developed its infrastructure... so tomorrow if we have to transport big trucks, machinery or heavy vehicles, we would need at least 10-metre wide road," the Union Minister said.
"Therefore, it's important from a strategic point of view and also we have to take care of the environment too... but this has to be done in balance..." Nitin Gadkari said.
"To take care of the environment, we have said that if we will plant an equal number of trees or even 5 times if one tree is cut or will transplant them so that there is no harm to the environment..." Gadkari mentioned.
"But if we won't be able to build roads... there is China on one side with all its infrastructure... and if we won't have it then it wouldn't be in the interest of the nation," Gadkari said.
"We have put these arguments in front of the Supreme Court.. the hearing is going on... so whatever decision it takes we will accept it," he said.
Meanwhile, the Centre informed the top court that feeder roads like from Rishikesh to Gangotri, Rishikesh to Mana, and Tanakpur to Pithoragarh which lead up to the northern border with China connect Army camps at Dehradun and Meerut which have bases of missile launchers and heavy artillery.
The Centre said that the Army needs to be ready for any exigency and cannot be caught napping like it happened in 1962.
The top court observed that all development has to be sustainable and balanced with the defence of the nation and protection of the environment and the court cannot second guess the defence needs of the country.
A bench of justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath was told by Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, that the Army needs better roads due to the recent developments at the India-China borders.
"There has been tremendous build-up on the other side of the border. They (China) have ramped up infrastructure and built airstrips, helipads, roads, railway line networks which proceed on the assumption that they are going to be there permanently," he said.
He sought modification of September 8, 2020 order which had asked the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) to follow the 2018 circular stipulating carriageway width of 5.5 metre on the ambitious Chardham highway project which goes up to the China border.
The strategic 900-km project aims to provide all-weather connectivity to four holy towns -- Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath -- in Uttarakhand.
Venugopal said, "Army's problem is that it needs to move troops, tanks, heavy artillery and machinery. It should not be like in 1962 the ration supplies were made on foot up to the China border. If the road is not two-lane then the purpose of having a road is defeated. Hence double laning should be permitted width of 7 metre (or 7.5 metre in case there is a raised kerb)."
The top court said that it cannot ignore the fact that there is an adversary which has developed infrastructure on the border up to the hilt and Army needs better roads up to the border which has not seen any radical changes since the 1962 war.
(With inputs from PTI)