Centre seeks SC direction to Himalayan states for carrying capacity study
The Centre’s affidavit comes roughly four weeks after heavy monsoon showers wreaked havoc in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand
The Union government has urged the Supreme Court to issue directives to all 13 Himalayan states and Union territories for immediately assessing carrying capacity of mountainous regions while proposing to form a new panel that would evaluate the action plans mooted by the states.
The carrying capacity is the maximum population size that an ecosystem can sustain without getting degraded.
In an affidavit filed on Monday, the Centre submitted that it was imperative for the states and UTs to spell out the steps taken to prevent further degradation of ecosystem and propose their action plans, which could be looked into by a technical committee, headed by the Director, GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment.
“It will be imperative that factual aspects of each hill station are specifically identified and collected with the help of the local authorities, cutting across multiple disciplines,” the ministry of environment, forest and climate Change said in the affidavit.
The Centre’s affidavit comes roughly four weeks after heavy monsoon showers wreaked havoc in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, resulting in the deaths of at least 103 people across the two states in landslides, building collapses, and damage to roads and other infrastructure.
The 13 Himalayan states and UTs include Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Assam and West Bengal.
Requesting the top court to issue appropriate directions to the 13 states for carrying out fresh assessments, it said the states could constitute committees headed by their respective chief secretaries to collect information on the load-carrying capacity of their hill stations, cities, and eco-sensitive zones.
It pointed out that the guidelines prepared by GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment for assessing the carrying capacity of mountainous areas were circulated among the 13 states in January 2020 and reminders were also sent on May 19, 2023 asking them to undertake the study and submit the action plan as early as possible.
The Centre had now implored the Supreme Court to intervene with the Himalayan states for conducting the assessments as per the 2020 guidelines, adding such a study was necessary for each state to ascertain the “accurate carrying capacity” of each hill station.
The ministry suggested that the “carrying capacity studies thus prepared by the 13 Himalayan states may be examined by a technical committee headed by the Director, GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment”.
The institute has been involved in conducting similar “studies for Mussoorie, Manali and McLeodganj,” arising out of cases pending in the National Green Tribunal (NGT), it pointed out.
The Centre added that experts could be drawn from multiple disciplines, including disaster management, hydrology, remote sensing, Himalayan geology, forestry, wildlife, architecture disaster management, pollution and groundwater protection.
While hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) that flagged the issue of degradation of ecologically fragile areas in the Himalayan states, the top court has on August 22 observed that the problem of haphazard construction, increased vehicular and tourist load, and the lack of planned development in the Himalayan states is an important issue.
A bench led by Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud on the day said that the court was mulling over setting up a committee “to work on the way forward” as it asked the Centre to suggest the names of institutes with expertise to carry out such a study.
The petition has been filed by Greater Noida-based doctor Ashok Kumar Raghav, who said the frequently visited hill stations are situated in ecologically fragile areas and despite the heavy flow of tourists, the cities do not have a master plan, area development plan, or a zonal development plan to ensure planned growth.
The petition stressed on determining carrying capacity for a realistic assessment of the availability of drinking water, sewerage, infrastructure, parking space, health and emergency services that could help fix a cap on the inflow of tourists and vehicles and take corrective measures to preserve the ecological balance around these places.
The court is expected to hear the matter later this week.