Balanc­ing ecol­ogy and de­vel­op­ment

The 2013 floods lie for­got­ten in Ut­tarak­hand’s new con­struc­tion plans

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - - Comment -

On Sun­day, the Rishikesh-badri­nath High­way in Ut­tarak­hand’s Tehri Garhwal district was blocked due to a land­slide, which killed two peo­ple. In ad­di­tion to the clo­sure of this crit­i­cal link, nearly 100 more roads are also blocked due to rains. While land­slides are not un­com­mon in this area, the lat­est episodes are an­other re­minder that this ge­o­log­i­cally young re­gion is un­sta­ble and in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment has to take this into ac­count. Oth­er­wise, the con­se­quences can be dis­as­trous. For ex­am­ple, the 2013 Ut­tarak­hand floods were a nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non, but the hu­man tragedy that fol­lowed was be­cause gov­ern­ments over­looked ge­o­log­i­cal fea­tures and drainage pat­terns, and al­lowed il­le­gal con­struc­tion on river banks and over nat­u­ral wa­ter chan­nels.

Un­for­tu­nately, the 2013 ex­pe­ri­ence has been erased from State mem­ory. In July, the Cen­tre ap­proved the zonal mas­ter plan (ZMP) for the Bha­gi­rathi eco-sen­si­tive zone that stretches from Gau­mukh to Ut­tarkashi (4179.59 sq km). While the Cen­tre claims that ZMP will boost the ecol­ogy, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists claim the op­po­site. The rush to clear ZMP is be­cause the Cen­tre wants to ex­pe­dite the 900-kilo­me­tre Chard­ham High­ways pro­ject, which will con­nect the four pil­grim­age sites of Gan­gotri, Ya­munotri, Kedar­nath and Badri­nath.

The pro­ject is on course de­spite protests against it and sci­en­tific ev­i­dence that shows the re­gion is un­sta­ble. The Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey of In­dia’s re­port on the 2103 tragedy says that con­struc­tions have dis­turbed the nat­u­ral slope of the moun­tains, lead­ing to land­slides. While it is true that bet­ter con­nec­tiv­ity im­proves lives and liveli­hoods and en­sures political div­i­dends, the fragility of the area is also a real­ity. The gov­ern­ment must cal­cu­late the re­gion’s car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity, and then draw up its de­vel­op­ment and tourism plans. In an era of the cli­mate cri­sis, this road map is a pre­req­ui­site, not a choice.

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