Nanda Devi peak in Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve in Uttarakhand where the reported glacier burst caused Chamoli disaster on February 7.(Raajiv Kala/HT Photo)
Nanda Devi peak in Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve in Uttarakhand where the reported glacier burst caused Chamoli disaster on February 7.(Raajiv Kala/HT Photo)

Uttarakhand CM requests Union govt for glacier research centre in state

  • The demand comes months after the Centre decided to discontinue the Centre for Glaciology project in Uttarakhand.
UPDATED ON FEB 21, 2021 07:40 PM IST

In the aftermath of the disaster in Uttarakhand's Chamoli district, chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat has requested the Centre to set up a glacier research centre to study the fall of glaciers in the Himalayas.

Rawat raised the demand during the NITI Aayog meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with all the chief ministers on Saturday.

According to the officials, privy to the development, "During the meeting, Rawat cited the recent Chamoli disaster, reportedly caused by a glacier burst and avalanche in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, and said that Uttarakhand is suffering from various natural disaster including flash floods, avalanche or landslide each year. If a centre for the study of glaciers is established in the state, it will help in monitoring the disasters and find ways to avert them."

Rawat's demand has come months after the Central government's department of science and technology (DST), under the Ministry of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, decided to discontinue the project of Centre for Glaciology (CFG) in Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG) in Dehradun.

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The decision was communicated with the WIHG officials in a letter dated June 25, 2020, which was received by WIHG in July. Under the letter, the DST directed the CFG to be merged with the WIHG from July 1 and all its activities to be managed by the existing staff of the WIHG. It had also asked the WIHG to relieve all the staff involved in the project.

The centre, inaugurated in 2009 during the UPA government in the WIHG which was appointed as its nodal agency, had aimed to carry a coordinated research initiative on Himalayan glaciology to understand the effects of climate on glaciers to develop strategies for climate change adaptability. The Centre was also assigned to carry programmes in setting up a specialised institute on glaciology named the India Institute of Glaciology in Mussoorie. The then government had planned a fund of about 500 crore to develop the institute of which about 23 crore was released.

Now, after CM raised a demand for a similar centre, experts say that such a centre or institute is the "need of the hour considering the constant changes in the glaciers in the Himalayas."

DP Dobhal, a retired scientist for glaciology in the WIHG, who was also the coordinator for the CFG project, said, "A dedicated centre for the study of glaciers is much needed with the changes happening in the glaciers in the Himalayas which are the lifelines of many major rivers flowing in our country."

Informing that there are about 10,000 glaciers in Indian Himalayas in an area of about 37,000 sq-km, Dobhal said before the CM raising the demand on Saturday, "I and other scientists suggested him to do so in our meetings citing the disaster-prone state."

"In the developmental works like hydel power projects in the Himalayan rivers, it becomes more vital to study the glaciers to know if it can lead to any disaster in future or even to make modifications in the project plan accordingly to avert any possible disaster," said Dobhal adding that the CM had requested a such a centre for the state but "if it's set up to study the glaciers for other glaciers in the Indian Himalayas then it will be significant."

On the possibility of the Centre accepting the demand, he said, "With the recent disaster in Chamoli, we hope it will be accepted."

However, few other experts feel that after the discontinuation of the CFG project, if a new centre is opened then the scientists will again have to work from scratch.

One of the scientists working on glaciology in the WIHG, on condition of anonymity, said, "In the now discontinued CFG project, many researchers were being trained to carry detailed and dedicated studies on glaciers. But after the discontinuation move, all the hard work of their trainers and theirs went into vain as they were also relieved."

"People don't understand that training researchers on glacial studies are not teaching ABCD to someone. It requires time and resources considering the vitality of the subject that too in the context of a mountain range like the Himalayas," he said, adding that "it is just ridiculous that after scrapping a running project, there is a demand for another one."

Another prominent scientist, Dr BR Arora, former director of the WIHG who was attached with the CFG project from the beginning, said, "Discontinuing it, had surely slowed down the speed of the ongoing glacial researches as it was completely a scientific project to study the dynamics of glaciers which were not known yet."

Arora said that once established, the CFG would have helped in answering many questions on the glaciers.

"We all say that the Himalayan glaciers are melting but nobody exactly knows why they are melting. Is it all because of only global warming or any other man-made factors also? Under the CFG project, we were studying all this. We had also studied the difference between North-facing glaciers and South-facing glaciers and the reason for their melting accordingly," he said.

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