Opening up the Bhagirathi eco-sensitive to projects could be disastrous | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Opening up the Bhagirathi eco-sensitive to projects could be disastrous

One of the main reasons why many have raised a red flag is the experience of the 2013 floods in the state. In the summer of that year, a sudden cloudburst led to a devastating flashfloods in the state, killing people and destroying property worth crores

editorials Updated: Jan 15, 2018 18:48 IST
Houses are submerged as trucks flow in flood waters of the Bhagirathi River in Shrinagar district Uttarakhand. AP
Houses are submerged as trucks flow in flood waters of the Bhagirathi River in Shrinagar district Uttarakhand. AP

Union road transport minister Nitin Gadkari announced last week that the Centre would soon start road and other projects in the 100-km-long Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone (BESZ) in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand after securing approval for them from all concerned departments. This policy scraps the one announced by the United Progressive Alliance in 2012 which marked the area as a no-development zone and asked the state to constitute a monitoring committee to ensure that those activities allowed in the zone can be conducted without disturbing the environment. The policy was opposed by all parties in the state. Expectedly, six years on, there’s no panel yet. Instead of addressing this lacuna and setting up a panel , the National Democratic Alliance, which now rules both the state and the Centre, has said projects in the zone will be cleared on a case-to-case basis.

One of the first projects to be considered will be the all-weather road that connects the religiously significant Char Dham ---Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. The road was promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the run-up to the assembly elections in 2017. The promise of a road in an area that has serious infrastructure challenges obviously went down well with the voters. It is not difficult to understand why. An all-weather road would make life easier for the people in this area and also open the region for more tourists. The BJP won 56 of the 70 seats in the state assembly in the elections.

The decision to open up the BSEZ has raised questions on the correct thing to do in this ecologically fragile zone. One of the main reasons why the decision has raised a red flag is the experience of the 2013 floods in the state. In the summer of that year, a sudden cloudburst led to a devastating flashfloods in the state, killing people and destroying property worth hundreds of crores. After the catastrophe, several panels created to study the flashflood warned the state against disturbing this area. The 2013 India Disaster Report, for example, of the National Institute of Disaster Management, warned that blasting for developmental activities must be avoided as it could destabilise the weak rocks in mountainous regions and that a pilgrim control and regulatory body should be constituted to regulate and manage the flow of pilgrims/tourists.

Mr Gadkari’s claim is that the government has found a ‘middle path’ by authorising concerned departments for carrying out ‘development’ works in the zone and that these departments will ensure that the conditions for carrying out such projects are complied with. This is hardly reassuring; the state’s environment-protection record has not been exemplary.