The National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued notice to the Centre and Uttarakhand government over allegations that forest are being cleared without due procedure for widening highway leading to Char Dham in the Himalayas and orally asked the respondents to temporarily halt work till March 12.
The plea submitted by Citizens for Green Doon, a loose collective of citizens and activists, was acknowledged by a four-member bench of Justices Jawad Rahim, Raghuvendra S Rathore, SP Wangdi and expert-member SS Garbyal.
The bench also sought details from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, apart from the Union Environment Ministry and the Uttarakhand government.
While the bench posted the hearing for March 12, advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for the petitioners, urged the tribunal to order for stopping work till the hearing and pointed out that trees were being indiscriminately chopped.
One of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious project, the Rs 12,000 crore project involves widening of 900 km of existing highways to provide all-weather connectivity between the Hindu pilgrimage sites of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri, and Gangotri.
The plea accused the Centre and Uttarakhand government of cutting 25,303 trees over a stretch of 356.36 km without following due procedure to obtain forest clearances and in the absence of a single, consolidated environmental impact assessment for the entire project.
The petitioners alleged that the clearances were obtained by breaking the project into several smaller segments, that allows the project authorities to not declare the total number of trees to be cut for the whole project.
The highway widening is being carried out on stretches between Rishikesh and Dharasu, Dharasu and Yamunotri, Dharasu and Gangotri, Rishilesh and Rudraprayag, Rudraprayag and Gaurikund, Rudraprayag and Mana village and Tanakpur and Pithoragarh.
The petitioners also asked for protection of forests and unique biodiversity and ecology of the Char Dham valleys from the project impact. The petitioner requested the tribunal to declare the forest clearances illegal and void, under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
In 2017, the tribunal had disposed a plea filed on illegal tree felling in Bhaironghati stretch of the project after the Uttarakhand government and Border Roads Organisation assured the green court in an undertaking that the project would be carried out in due compliance with laws.