- At the outset, let us all agree to the subject matter that both crucial aspects of a nation’s security and environmental degradation need holistic understanding as well as pragmatic decision-making. Any sovereign nation would not want to compromise on the security aspects owing to the modern-day geopolitical/geostrategic occurrences and positioning. At the same time, increasingly unpredictable climate vagaries being witnessed globally cannot be brushed aside under the carpet anymore as weather pattern keeps oscillating from one extreme to another. It is amply clear that there is no way any country can let go of either security aspects or environmental concerns by conferring precedence over one another.
- Striking a semblance of balance assumes greater importance. Against this backdrop, the Supreme Court reserving its judgment on an appeal by the ministry of defense (MOD) for relaxing its September 2020 order regarding the Char Dham Highway Development project is fast turning out to be a vexed issue. The whole matter has turned into a defense versus environment debate. It is worthwhile to recall that the project is a flagship initiative of the Centre that sought to widen 889km of mountainous road to provide all-weather connectivity to Uttarakhand’s Char Dham shrines. Here it is pertinent to note that the project also has a security dimension given the current situation at the India-China border.
- Mind you, the Dragon Nation’s overtly aggressive stand on the Easter Ladakh needs to be countered effectively. Nonetheless, as environmentalists and NGOs have pointed out, unthinkingly widening the road in such an eco-sensitive zone will have severe consequences for a state that has been grappling with major landslides and environmental degradation. We all know what happened in February this year as the Tapovan Hydro-Electric Power Dam was completely washed off following a massive landslide in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district. Keeping this in mind, the SC had upheld the recommendation in the minority report of a high-powered committee to limit the flagship project’s carriageway to 5.5m.
PC: Robert Huffstutter.
- However, the majority report of the same committee had agreed to a 12m widening involving additional deforestation, slope cutting, and tunneling. Needless to mention, this is bound to further impact the ecological sensitivity of the area. Now, the MOD has put its weight behind a double-lane road suitable for the army. Clearly, some sort of balance has to be struck between the needs of military and environmental concerns in equal measure. Moreover, India-China border tensions will leave New Delhi with no choice but to improve its border infrastructure in the eco-sensitive Himalayan zone.
- Of course, national security should not be conceptualized only in terms of military needs. A report suggests, there is a thought process in the government indicating it may exempt defense projects from green requirements. If project execution leads to faster environmental degradation, massive flooding, and landslides that in turn lead to huge loss of property and lives, that too severely undermines national security. It’s a Catch-22 situation for the government. As such, the best solution would be for the government and environmentalists to work with each other rather than continuing to remain at cross-purposes keeping each other’s interests intact.