The Supreme Court appointed high powered committee(HPC) formed to monitor environmental damages on the Char Dham highway project met on Saturday to decide the ‘future course of action’ of the project. The meeting, however, was held without its chairman Ravi Chopra’s approval or participation. Some members alleged that holding the meeting showed clear interference of the government as it was held on direction of Uttarakhand chief secretary Om Prakash.
Ravi Chopra, chairperson of the HPC on Friday wrote to Ravinath Raman, the newly appointed member secretary of the committee stating, “… you cannot call any meeting of the HPC without the concurrence of the Chair… As a Member Secretary, you are accountable for the HPC which is an independent body created by the Hon’ble Supreme Court and answerable to the Hon’ble Court only. You have no authority to impose any other’s directions for its functioning… As you have mentioned in your notice that you are calling this meeting ‘as per the directions of the Chief Secretary’ is highly objectionable and a direct infringement in the functioning of the HPC.” A copy of the letter is with HT.
The letter further mentions, “As Member Secretary your duty is to carry out the orders of the Supreme Court and not the Chief Secretary. I have not agreed to your calling the meeting tomorrow (October 17, 2020). The said meeting has no locus. It is without any authority. I request you to withdraw the notice forthwith so that the functioning of the HPC can continue as per Hon’ble Supreme Court’s directions.”
On October 15, a letter was issued by Om Prakash, chief secretary of Uttarakhand stating that Raman was appointed as the member secretary of the HPC.
The letter mentioned that in the past few months since no meetings were held, the workings of HPC is being hampered and therefore, the newly appointed member secretary should ensure that a meeting of the HPC is conducted within two days.
Speaking on the meeting, Raman said, “As the matter is sub-judice, I cannot disclose the details of the meeting, but it was mostly about the future course of action regarding the functioning of the HPC.”
Two members of the HPC, Navin Juyal and Hemant Dhyani released a statement on Saturday in solidarity with the chairperson.
The statement mentioned, “We, the members of the HPC, herein, find the urgency to place a statement with regards to the complete arbitrary way of functioning of the recently appointed Member Secretary. The chairman HPC did not approve the holding of HPC meeting…however, the member secretary went ahead with conducting the meeting which according to us is complete disrespect towards the authority of the HPC and violation of the democratic sanctity of the HPC which has been wilfully attacked and the place of the Chair has been brazenly compromised.”
They further said, “We have thus not participated in this meeting and issue this statement in solidarity with the HPC chairman in support and appreciation of his honest and dedicated mission and commitments towards safe and disaster resilient Char Dham Pariyojana with due concerns of the Himalayan environment. We reiterate our stand with him and demand that an independent functioning of the HPC should be restored.”
The HPC recommended that the width of the Char Dham road project should be 5.5 metres instead of 7.5 meters being constructed by state’s public works department (PWD )to Supreme Court in third week of July 2020. On September 8, the apex court upheld the HPC recommendation and asked NHAI to reduce the width of the road to 5.5 for remaining part of the project. Chopra had alleged that PWD had not implemented the SC order. The PWD officials had refused to comment saying they would submit response to the SC.