Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone gets green nod

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByJayashree Nandi
Jul 18, 2020 08:13 AM IST

In a review meeting on the Rhar Dham road project chaired by Nitin Gadkari, minister of road transport and highways, environment minister Prakash Javadekar said the ministry has approved the ZMP which will help expedite the road project.

The union environment ministry has approved the zonal master plan for the Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone notification that stretches from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi covering an area of 4179.59 sqkm, the ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Bhagirathi river at Gangotri in Uttarkashi district. (Santosh Bhatt/HT photo)
Bhagirathi river at Gangotri in Uttarkashi district. (Santosh Bhatt/HT photo)

In a review meeting on the chaardhaam road project chaired by Nitin Gadkari, minister of road transport and highways where he called for quick disposal of pending issues like land acquisition and environmental clearances, environment minister, Prakash Javadekar said that the ministry has approved the ZMP which will help expedite the chaardhaam road project.

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Uttarakhand CM, Trivendra Singh Rawat; Union Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways Gen (Retd) V K Singh also attended the meeting.

“The ZMP is based on watershed approach and includes governance in the area of forest and wildlife, watershed management, irrigation, energy, tourism, public health and sanitation, road infrastructure, etc. The approval of ZMP will give a boost to conservation and ecology of the area and also to undertake developmental activities as permitted under ZMP. The approval will also pave way for faster execution of the Chaardhaam Project,” environment ministry’s statement said.

But approval of the ZMP could make the entire Bhagirathi region extremely vulnerable to natural disasters, activists and experts said.

The Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone notification was first issued by the environment ministry on December 18, 2012. After years of protests by local environmentalists, the notification sought to protect the entire fragile Himalayan region by restricting hydropower projects of over 2 MW, riverbed mining and change of land use. The notification was however amended on April 16, 2018 following Uttarakhand government’s objections that the notification was ‘anti-development.’

The 2018 amendment said: “a number of representations have been received from various stakeholders to allow activities that promote sustainable development while ensuring environmental protection in the Bhagirathi Eco-sensitive Zone,” and hence it approved land use change to meet the local needs including civic amenities and” other infrastructure development in larger public interest and national security with the prior approval of State Government with due study of Environmental Impacts.” It also allowed cutting of hills in eco-sensitive areas with proper study and construction on steep slopes in exceptional cases for the benefit of the community. The ministry has approved the ZMP in line with the 2016 amendments.

“Haven’t we learnt anything from the 2015 Kedarnath tragedy? The Himalayas are extremely fragile mountains. The rocks still haven’t consolidated completely. Hill cutting will definitely destabilise hills, if there is forest loss debris would flow into the river affecting the river and making the entire region extremely vulnerable to landslides. Also, beyond 1800 to 2000 metres altitude its mostly moraines (unconsolidated glacial debris). If there is a cloudburst these will add to landslides. Plus, the Himalayas are in seismic zone V a major earthquake can happen anytime. What is the purpose of the chaardhaam road? If it’s entirely strategic then a single lane road will suffice,” said Shashi Shekhar, former secretary, union ministry of water resources who has dealt with various legal matters on the Bhagirathi Eco Sensitive Zone during his tenure in the ministry.

“This is the last pristine stretch of Ganga - which is why for the conservation of Bhagirathi, an ESZ in the entire watershed was announced. I hope that the government of Uttarakhand will not bulldoze its own agenda of so-called development and maintain the sanctity of the ESZ through the ZMP. GoU’s response to ESZ so far has not been positive so far - the ESZ monitoring committee has virtually been made non-functional,” said Mallika Bhanot of Uttarakhand based Ganga Ahvaan.

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