Joshimath sinking: National highway construction in 100-km range of border now has riders

Environment ministry issues new SOP for national highways earlier exempt from environmental clearance

By Raju Sajwan
Published: Wednesday 15 February 2023
Incidents like landslides have increased in Uttarakhand Due to the Char Dham Highway project. Photo: Sunny Gautam / CSE__

The central and state governments are yet to declare the reasons behind the land subsidence in Joshimath, Uttarakhand. However, a standard operating procedure (SOP) for constructing highways within a 100-kilometre range of national border areas has been issued.

Many experts believe the Char Dham Highway project is one of the primary reasons behind the increasing number of landslides in Uttarakhand, including the land subsidence reported in Joshimath. Several social activists have alleged that the highway project has been divided into several parts to avoid environmental clearances.

Read more: GM Mustard, Joshimath: Gagging scientists is a lousy idea; here’s why

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change issued an office memorandum (OM) on February 6, 2023 over the construction of national highways. The OM mentioned that an earlier notification on July 14, 2022, said national highways being constructed within a 100-km range of line of control were exempted from acquiring environmental clearance.

Highway projects related to defence and of strategic importance in border states were sensitive. Guidelines for these projects should be implemented keeping in mind the strategic, defence and security considerations in each case, the ministry had said in the July 2022 notification.

Institutions implementing such projects in border areas were, thus, exempted from the requirement of Environment Clearance (EC) subject to a specific SOP.

However, certain environmental safeguards will now have to be followed during the construction and operation of all highway projects that were earlier exempt, according to the latest SOP.

For example, if the national highway passes through a hilly area, a comprehensive study of landslides, slope strength, seismic activities in the project area, fragility of ecology, etc, will have to be conducted by a reputed technical institute.

Read more: Himalayan plunder: Tourist rush threatens fragile Ladakh

Along with this, a landslide management plan will also have to be prepared. The plan will look into safeguarding the environment during the construction work, like what steps should be taken before and after the construction under the supervision of the experts.

Extensive arrangements will also be needed while cutting the mountains to prevent the falling of rocks and soil erosion, the SOP stated.

The SOP includes other instructions like special precautions while drilling tunnels as well. Comprehensive studies will need to be done to understand the effect of boring holes into a structure and the effect on trees, plants and vegetation.

It has to be ensured that there will be no loss of life, property or environment due to the highway project, the SOP stated. The debris and soil coming out due to construction will also have to be disposed of in a scientific manner. Also, it has to be ensured that the river, reservoir, etc will not be harmed due to the project.

Read more:

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :
Related Stories

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.