The controversial Char Dham expressway project will miss its March 2020 deadline as the government is blaming the ongoing litigation related to the environment. The Ministry of State for Road Transport and Highways in the Lok Sabha said Rs 1,800 crore has already been spent on the project to connect Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, which are the four holiest Hindu sites in the state of Uttarakhand.
A petition, filed by the Citizens for Green Doon, made the Court aware about the damage that had been done to the environment by the expressway project. According to India Legal, “the petitioner argued that the environmental impact assessment for the 900-km project had not been carried out and cautioned that the ‘blatantly illegal’ project would leave the region vulnerable to ecological disasters like the 2013 floods in Kedarnath.”
The National Green Tribunal heard from the Citizens of Green Doon that the project had violated several environmental norms. Thousands of trees have been allegedly felled and river pollution because of the ongoing works. According to India Climate Dialogue, “almost 50,000 trees are to be felled for the project, including slow-growing high-altitude trees like Himalayan cedar, birch and oak.” The Hindustan Times, quoted Conservator (forests) A. K. Rastogi of the Garhwal region saying that “as per norms, trees can be felled only after double the affected land is provided for reforestation. Trees have to be cut for development works. But we do it after a long process, for instance, we plant 200 saplings if we cut 100 trees in a bid to maintain the green cover.” As the 2019 Lok Sabha elections around the corner, the project works has peaked up.
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Meanwhile, nearby villages to the Char Dam project have complained of having their farms ruined as the project workers dumped muck in their fields. The villages have also complained about lost employment. Some have grievances of not being paid by the contractors. However, the Uttarakhand Cabinet Minister Madan Kaushik, in 2018, had said they were trying to accommodate maximum workforce from Uttarakhand.
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi had laid the foundation stone for the massive project in December 2016. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is monitoring the project to ensure a speedy and smooth completion.