Notwithstanding the then Trivendra Singh Rawat government’s acquisition of Hindu places of worship for the union government’s Char Dham project against the will of activists who have been demanding the freedom of their temples and shrines for ages, the Supreme Court today granted the Ministry of Defence’s request to allow widening of the Char Dham highway to meet “national security interests”, keeping in mind the rising tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LoAC) with China. It formed an oversight committee to report to the court directly.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath allowed the application filed by the Defence Ministry seeking modification of the September 8, 2020 order of the apex court which had asked the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) to stick to its 2018 circular on the width of roads in hilly terrain in the execution of the Char Dham road project. The 2018 guidelines prescribe a 5.5-metre wide tarred road for the highways.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) felt the prescribed width was insufficient to meet the security concerns and for the movement of strategic weaponry like the Brahmos missile regiments, and urged the court to modify it to 10 metres.
The bench which heard the plea said it found no mala fides in it. Stating that MoD is authorised to design operational requirements of armed forces, the court ruled Tuesday that bonafide of MoD is apparent from the security concerns raised in the security committee meeting.
mala fides /malə ˈfʌɪdiːz,malə ˈfiːdeɪz/
bad faith; intent to deceive.
“None of the prosecutions was brought as a consequence of mala fides by the prosecutor.”
The Supreme Court said that “in exercise of judicial review”, it “ cannot second guess the requirements of the army”.
“We allow the application by the Defence Ministry for double-lane highways for the three strategic highways,” the court said in its order.
The bench took note of the environmental concerns raised by the petitioner, NGO Citizens for Green Doon, and referred to the court-appointed High Powered Committee’s conclusion that best practices were not adopted by the government in some places during the construction.
Stating that these recommendations have to be followed, Supreme Court put in place an oversight committee headed by its former judge Justice AK Sikri to oversee the implementation and to ensure there are no breaches.