How the Modi government used a legal loophole to escape environmental scrutiny of the 900-kilometre Char Dham Highway Project in Uttarakhand

02 August 2018
At the inauguration, Modi said the Char Dham highway project is a tribute to the victims of the 2013 Uttarakhand flash floods.
PIB
At the inauguration, Modi said the Char Dham highway project is a tribute to the victims of the 2013 Uttarakhand flash floods.
PIB

On 27 December 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the Char Dham highway project in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. The project, estimated to cost Rs 12,000 crore, aims to improve road connectivity to four revered Hindu pilgrimage sites in the Himalayas. It involves widening 900 kilometres of national highways leading to the Char Dham spots—Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath. The government’s stated goal is to make the journey to these sites safer and faster by building all-weather roads as well as a series of tunnels, bypasses and bridges.

A day before the inauguration, Modi tweetedthat the Char Dham highway project will give a “strong boost” to connectivity and tourism in the region. “I assure you that whenever you will come for Kedarnath, Badrinath yatra, you will remember this government and Nitin ji like Shravan is remembered,” Modi said at the inauguration. He was referring to Nitin Gadkari, the union minister for road transport and highways, and Shravan, a character in the Ramayana known for taking his aged parents to pilgrimage sites despite great obstacles.

“This is the prime minister’s pet project,” Mallika Bhanot of Ganga Ahvaan, an environmental non-governmental organisation based in Uttarkashi, told me over the phone. “The Char Dham circuit is one of the most significant pilgrimage spots for Hindus and the road building is meant to increase religious tourism to the shrines.”

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    Tushar Dhara is a reporting fellow with The Caravan. He has previously worked with Bloomberg News, Indian Express and Firstpost and as a mazdoor with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in Rajasthan.

    Keywords: Char Dham Environment Impact Assessment Uttarakhand flash floods Char Dham Highway Project environment Environment Protection Act
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