Have you ever been frustrated at the pace at which things move in our country? Of course, you have. You know the drill. They announce a megaproject. With much fanfare, a politician lays the foundation stone. Everyone knows that the target date for completion is just pure fantasy. Everything seems to run into delays, missed deadlines and humongous cost overruns.
We don’t expect anything in this country to be completed on time. Generally speaking, we blame either politicians or bureaucrats for this. But it’s not always their fault. Sometimes, we could just be paying the price for traps left behind by governments from decades ago, to sabotage our progress.
You must have heard about PM Modi’s ambitious Char Dham road project, a 900 km long all-weather system of national highways connecting the Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamnotri in Uttarakhand. Think of the jobs created, the boost to tourism and industry in the tiny hill state. And of course, there is the unsaid part: we would have 900 km of the highway close to the border with China.
PM Modi laid the foundation for the project on Dec 27, 2016. So what are we waiting for? Let’s do it, right?
Let me take you to step by step through the frustrations involved. For starters, you can’t just order 900 km of new highways in Uttarakhand. The prospective highway would cut through ecologically sensitive regions of the Himalayas. You would need an extensive environmental impact study as per our laws. All sorts of activists, foreign-funded NGOs and lobbies want their pound of flesh before we can start. In other words, see you in a few decades.
So what does the government do? There is a small loophole for small “civil works” that are less than 100 kms in length. So, in order to bypass the environment lobby, the Central govt first breaks down the single 900 km project into 53 different “civil works.” Imagine the loss of efficiency this causes and the bureaucratic nightmare this creates.
Not so fast. Do you think that “activists” will just let the government get away with this? The road will create jobs, economic growth and give us a strategic asset against a powerful neighbour.
This one time, can’t the activists just let it be? Of course not. This road project is in too much national interest to be acceptable to the NGO ecosystem of our well-wishers. And with an evil Hindu name like “Char Dham road,” how could we even hope for mercy?
And so the activists get together and sue. Their friend is the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2006. The 2006 notification makes sure India can neither develop too much nor too fast. Otherwise, who would vote for…?
Well, the law is the law and the Supreme Court can only rule according to the law. This week, the activists have won in the Supreme Court. As expected. You can check the usual liberal mouthpieces. The usual suspects are thrilled that they have nailed the “lies” of Modi sarkar. They are salivating. They are celebrating. Everyone is happy. Especially China.
The Center had requested for a width of at least seven meters so that military vehicles could ply on the road. The request was denied. The planned two-lane highway is now down to a single lane.
Do you think China is stopping work on any of its strategic roads near the border due to environmental considerations? Ha!
Not a chance. We are in this fight, blindfolded and with our arms and legs tied behind us. These environmental rules were slipped into the system in 2006 and fourteen years later, we are still suffering.
One final note. You might ask: If these laws are such a bother, why doesn’t Modi sarkar just get rid of them? That’s exactly the plan, now that the government has the numbers in the Rajya Sabha. The new draft EIA notification 2020 is ready. And look who is unhappy.
These days, Sonia ji rarely speaks. But when she does, it is always on the most important issues of all.