Days after chairperson of the Supreme Court-appointed high-powered committee (HPC) pointed out “brazen” violation of forest and wildlife laws by the Char Dham Pariyojana, the Uttarakhand government on Thursday said it will seek a report from the departments concerned on the objections raised in the letter, with directions to take necessary actions.
However, the state minister for Environment, Wildlife and Forest, Harak Singh Rawat, denied that any violation of forest and wildlife laws have occurred in the Rs 11,700-crore project, meant to widen 889 km of hill roads connecting major pilgrimage sites. He said if one tries to stop work on such a project of strategic importance by citing such “faaltu ki cheezon” (inconsequential issues), then that is “against the nation, and not against any individual.”
Last year, the apex court had formed the HPC to determine the ecological impact of the Char Dham road project.
Underlining that laws have been violated in the project “as if the Rule of Law does not exist”, HPC chairperson Ravi Chopra, in a letter to the Environment Secretary on August 13, had stated that the project has caused “incalculable and long-term damage to the Himalayan ecology” by felling trees, cutting hills and dumping muck (excavated material) without valid permission on various stretches.
Asked about Chopra’s letter, Anand Bardhan, Uttarakhand’s Principal Secretary, Environment and Forests, said he received a letter from the regional office of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in this regard on Thursday. “I am sending it to the Chief Conservator of Forests, Public Works Department (PWD), and the nodal officer for a report and necessary action,” he said.
Questioned about the letter from the Union ministry, Pankaj Agarwal, deputy director general of Forests, North-Central Zone, regional office of the Environment ministry, asked The Indian Express to contact the state government.
Uttarakhand PWD is the nodal agency in the project. On August 14, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat had reviewed its progress and directed completion within the time-frame – the revised deadline is May 2021.
State Environment Minister Harak Rawat, meanwhile, asserted on Thursday that Chopra was writing “such things” since he was upset over a view that the Centre was not accepting his opinions on the project in an earlier report.
“No laws have been violated in the project. All rules are being followed. Divisional forest Officers in the districts are monitoring the project,” he maintained.
The minister said, “The all-weather road project is very important from strategic point of view…if you try to stop work in road project of strategic importance by citing nonsense then that is against the nation, and not against any individual.”
The HPC, mandated to examine ecological impact of the project and recommend remedies, submitted two reports this July after committee members disagreed on the ideal width – 12 metres against 5.5 metres – for hill roads. Both reports, however, flagged a string of transgressions and recommended that “a note on the emergent issues” be sent to the Environment Ministry for “detailed enquiries and necessary action”.
Among alleged violations listed in his letter to the Environment Secretary are work going on without valid permission; misuse of old forest clearances that resulted in massive muck dumps along NH-125, where muck has just been pushed down the slope, posing serious threat to environment and local habitat; false declaration to dodge the National Board for Wildlife Board’s (NBWL) scrutiny.
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