Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has suggested the Uttarakhand government to shift Sersi helipad that takes pilgrims to Kedarnath shrine.
The helipad is close to Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary and has reported low flying and increased noise level putting wild animals at risk.
To know impacts of chopper services on Himalayan species as directed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2015, the institute took up this study.
Doaba Paryavaran Samiti, an NGO, moved the NGT followed by a report of divisional forest officer (DFO) Kedarnath-submitted to the government in 2013, highlighting that the air services are posing threat to breeding of animals like musk deer, Himalayan thar and goral in the sanctuary.
Sersi helipad is only 12 km from the shrine. According to scientists, only one out of nine companies permitted then, was flying choppers from the helipad.
The copters were not only flying below 600 mt elevation, as set by the centre government but also causing high noise levels.
The DFO report alleges that noise level was more than 120 decibel in the valley which is harmful for both animals and humans.
“The study has recommended shifting of Sersi helipad due to high noise levels,” Digvijay Singh Khati, chief wildlife warden told Hindustan Times.
The central government empowers states to define elevation of flying copters but the Uttarakhand government hasn’t fixed it yet, say sources.
The Nainital high court in 2012 sealed noise level limits around protected area-50 decibels during the day and 40 decibels during the night. This is being maintained by Corbett Tiger Reserve.
Kedarnath reported tragedy in June 2013 in which a cloudburst-triggered landslide flattened the area and killed over 5,000 pilgrims. Following which, the pilgrims vouched for a safer ‘air’ route giving scope for aviation industries to spread its wings.
Chopper services are made available to pilgrims from Guptkashi and Phata cutting the difficult walking route of 16 km to 10 min of flying.
The basic objective behind the study was to understand the impacts of noise levels on wild animals. For the first time, scientists carefully examined stress levels by sending scat samples to the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) Hyderabad. To ascertain the study, they also collected similar samples in a parallel area Kalimath.
The results were surprising. “Stress can have multiple reasons. We tabulated baseline data on stress levels of Himalayan species in the Kedarnath Valley and Kalimath area that run parallel which do not shows much of a difference,” said S Sathyakumar, who was the principal investigator of the study.
He said while anthropogenic pressure like pilgrim movement has always been there, in last more than 5 years, animal have adapted to the noise levels in the region.
“We have three video clippings which were taken when sorties were in progress. The footage shows that the animals were not disturbed because of choppers as they have gotten used to of it,” he added.
Furthermore, scientists claim that a change in the behavioural pattern was reported. The activity of wild animals which is generally high during the day is now changed to night.
R Rajesh Kumar, additional secretary civil aviation, was clueless about the report. “I am yet to see the report,” he said.
The portals of Kedarnath and Badrinath will open for pilgrims on May 3 and 6. Those of Gangotri and Yamunotri will be opened on April 28. Last year an estimated 14 lakh pilgrims visited Char Dhams of which 3 lakh alone went to Kedarnath. More than 13 private copter operators were permitted to fly in the Valley.