The road to a Himalayan blunder
24th Nov, 2021

Context: The Char Dham road project is an ambitious attempt to widen nearly 900 kilometres of hill roads at the cost of Rs.12,000 crore.

Significance of the Char Dham Road Project

  1. National/Border Security: The project is essential to back up troop and arms movement towards the India-China border. 
  2. Citizens concern: Stress on the need for a regulated and narrower intermediate road width with a walking footpath.
  3. Tourism revenue: All-weather connectivity to the four major shrines of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath with Government intend to install toll booths to levy tax on visitors.


  • Tragic incidents in the hills of Uttarakhand: Rampant construction over decades and its complex interaction with climate change has led to massive landslides and floods in the fragile Himalayan range.
  • Floods in the Dhauli Ganga, Rishi Ganga and Alaknanda rivers this year claimed over 200 lives.
  • During the monsoons, owing to the massive hill-cutting for the Char Dham road project, several landslides have occurred in the region.
  • Terrain of Uttarakhand: Valleys in Uttarakhand are narrow and close-ended with steep slopes of 60-70 degrees compared to Ladakh’s which has a slope elevation of 30 degrees.
  • Any human-induced change beyond the Himalayas’ carrying capacity will have an impact on stream run-offs and erosional or depositional processes.
  • Regulating MoRTH guidelines: March 2018 guidelines issued by the MoRTH for mountain highways, which set a standard specification of a carriageway width of 5.5m with two-lane structures.

        Way Forward 

        • SC Committee recommendations: An intermediate road width of 5.5m tarred surface which facilitates easy bilateral movement, with a 1.5m walking footpath, which pilgrims and residents of the valley need. Formation width of this design is the same as that proposed by the MoD.
        • Upheld the MoRTH guidelines: The March 2018 guidelines issued by the MoRTH for mountain highways should be maintained in order to protect the fragile mountains.
        • Environment Impact Assessment: Prevention and regulation of activities seem to be the only effective way of mitigation in the fragile mountains of Himalayas.

        Conclusion: If the government does not desist from widening the roads under Char Dham road project, it will be a Himalayan blunder.