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Trade spells trouble for Nathu La ecology

According to a Central Pollution Control Board , the growing human activity after the re-opening of the Nathu La pass for international trade has led to deterioration in the quality of the sensitive Himalayan soil, reports Chetan Chauhan.
By Chetan Chauhan | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 14, 2008 12:49 AM IST

Call it a trade-off. The re-opening of the Nathu La pass for international trade may have fostered better trade ties between India and China. But growing human activity in the region has led to deterioration in the quality of the sensitive Himalayan soil, a Central Pollution Control Board study has found.

At 14,000 feet, Nathu La Pass is among the world’s highest trading points. It was opened for trade on July 6, 2006, 44 years after it was closed. Now, the Indian and Chinese governments have started work on expanding the trade route.

But this has resulted in environmental degradation in the region, says the study conducted in 2007. The environment watchdog found that the expansion of the route has resulted in the Tshangu Lake shrinking. Reason: the debris, generated from the widening of the road, are flowing into the river.

“The lake receives surface rain water from the slightly inclined mountain side where the extension work is in progress. There is no arrangement to check the surface water from carrying the debris from earth cutting,” the report said. The study was conducted after environmentalists and locals raised a hue and cry about the adverse impact of the work on the area’s fragile ecology.

The CPCB also notes that the road passes between the lake and the markets located on its banks and there is no drainage system in place to eject the waste from the markets and human settlements. Consequently, the lake functions as a dumping ground.

The CPCB team also visited a border trading point Sherathang Trade Mark run by Department of Commerce & Industries, Sikkim government and found solid waste dumped in huge piles. “The waste, including plastic waste, is burnt in an open area behind the trade house,” the report said.

A CPCB official said the findings have been forwarded for appropriate action to the Sikkim government.

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