The Supreme Court has cleared the decks for the Chardham highway project, which will connect four holy places in the hills of Uttarakhand through 900-km all-weather roads, by modifying a National Green Tribunal order to constitute a fresh committee to look into environmental concerns.
It ordered the Ministry of Environment and Forest to form the high-powered committee (HPC) by August 22.
NGO Citizen for Green Doon had petitioned the apex court, after the NGT on September 26 last year gave its conditional approval to the connectivity project in view of larger public interest, saying the project would cause an irreversible damage to regional ecology.
The NGT had constituted a committee headed by a former Uttarakhand high court Judge to monitor the project.
Hearing the NGO's petition against the project, the apex court bench, comprising Justices Rohinton Fali Nariman and Surya Kant, only modified the September NGT order by constituting a fresh high-powered committee (HPC).
In addition to this, the court added representatives from Physical Research Laboratory under the government's Department of Space, Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India, MoEF (from Dehradun regional office) and Defence Ministry to the HPC.
The top court asked the committee to submit its recommendations within four months.
The HPC shall hold quarterly meetings thereafter to ensure compliance and may suggest any further measure after each review meeting.
"The committee shall consider the cumulative and independent impact of the Chardham project on the entire Himalayan valleys and for that purpose, the HPC will give directions to conduct Environmental Impact Assessment by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH)," it said.
The HPC should consider whether revision of the full Chardham project should at all take place with a view to minimize the adverse impact on the environment and social life, it said.
It will identify the sites where quarrying has started recommend measures required to stabilise the area and for safe disposal of muck.
It will also assess the environmental degradation -- loss of forest lands, trees, green cover, water resources etc. -- on the wildlife and will direct mitigation measures, it said.
In Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone (Gangotri to Uttarkashi), the HPC will make special provisions in its report keeping in mind the guidelines given under the notification of the Bhagirathi ESZ to avoid violations and any environmental damage, the court said.
The HPC will also suggest the areas in which afforestation should be taken and the kind of saplings to be planted, it said.
In case of non-survival of any sapling, further plantation should be done and compensatory afforestation should be ten times the number of trees cut, the court said.