O.A. 431/2018
Chardhaam Road-Widening Project

Summary :

Original Application (OA) filed under section 14, 15 and 18 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010:

Due to the widening of NH108 as part of the Chardham project, debris and muck were being directly dumped along the slopes into the Bhagirathi river. With the onset of monsoon, the impact of the muck disposal was getting aggravated, raising fears of landslides. Indiscriminate dumping into the river would result in excessive pollution in the river and alteration of its course. Hence, Common Cause on July 3, 2018 filed an OA seeking directions to the executive to establish that the road design conformed to the principle of mass balancing of cut and fill; to bar them from undertaking any further widening work till the stability of the new slope was established; to submit a time-bound muck disposal plan at the earliest and bar them from continuing with construction of road until proper disposal of muck already generated was undertaken; to direct them to bring on record all the documents pertaining to diversion of forest land in the Chard ham project (900 kms) area, especially the total number of trees that would be cut, the hill slopes expected to be cut, as well as the number of trees already cut and set up an independent Commission of Experts, comprising reputed geologists, environmental rights activists, etc. to look into the issue and review the plan of muck disposal in the Chardham project, as already submitted.

On July 10, 2018 the bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel issued notices to the Environment Ministry, Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways and Uttarakhand government.

In the hearing on August 8, 2018, Union of India filed a counter-affidavit and submitted that proper muck disposal is being done under the project. They also stated that there was no requirement for an Environmental Clearance (EC) as the project was divided into stretches of less than 100 kms each. Common Cause has been asked by the Court to file an affidavit with our submissions. 

The matter was listed on August 28, 2018 and was adjourned for hearing to September 17, 2018.

On September 17, 2018 the matter was tagged with the case of Citizens for Green Doon, before being disposed of on September 26, 2018.

In response to a Common Cause petition, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has appointed a seven-member committee to monitor violation of road construction rules and to address environmental concerns in the Chardhaam Project. The four-judge Bench, headed by NGT Chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel also held that while no development project is acceptable at the cost of endangering human health and public safety, it is important to allow plans that are executed by respecting safeguards, for larger public interest.

The Bench on September 26, 2018 said that a Special Secretary will be appointed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to lead this Committee. The Committee will also feature representatives from Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, G.B. Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment & Sustainable Development, National Institute of Disaster Management, Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun and Uttarakhand Forest department officials, among others.

The Tribunal further held that de-hors the notification dated 14th September, 2006, rapid Environmental Impact Assessment and preparation of Environmental Management Plant is necessary which has detailed elaboration on slope stabilization, muck disposal and muck management compensatory afforestation, disaster management, etc. is still necessary having regard to the nature and location of the project and potential impact on environment. It held that such Rapid EIA must take into account all aspects of air quality, stabilisation of slopes, identification of landslide hotspots, construction of green roads,  muck disposal arrangements, compulsory afforestation, including the requirement of transplanting trees instead of felling trees wherever possible, disaster management and preparedness measures. 

The Tribunal noted the poor mechanism for muck disposal in the project and held: " the structural stability of muck dumping sites is not upto the mark and we feel that with so much of muck/debris load there is every possibility of some caving in during excessive landslides and other natural disasters. Therefore, stabilizing such sites with Gabion wall/Crate wires at places where load is less seems to be adequate but in high load bearing sites, augmented RCC structures followed by strengthening by way of grids through engineering and bio-engineering methods would stabilize such sites. State Government to also notify Debris Dumping Policy which includes details of environmental restoration and restitution. The Committee shall also look into disaster management and disaster preparedness measures."

The matter was disposed off with the above directions on 26 September 2018.