Call for controlled construction in Uttarakhand

Call for controlled construction in Uttarakhand

In the ecologically sensitive Himalayan region rampant construction in unscientific manner has made things worse

By Sandeep Joshi

NEW DELHI: Terming the recent flashfloods in Uttarakhand a “man-made disaster”, noted geoscientists, environmentalists and social activists have cautioned against showing any haste in carrying out construction activities in devastated areas without proper survey and planning. They have called for much-needed defining of flood paths of all rivers in the hill state and clearing all constructions from flood and landslide-prone area to avert similar tragedies in future.

“What we witnessed last month was nature’s fury that was waiting to happen…Nature has been giving us enough indications which we choose to ignore. Entire Himalayan region is ecologically very sensitive zone, while rampant construction in unscientific manner has made things worse. It is high time we strictly regulate all such construction activities to minimise damage to the hills,” said KS Valdiya, renowned geologist and Honorary Professor at Bangalore-based Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR).

“Entire Himalayan region is ecologically very sensitive zone, while rampant construction in unscientific manner has made things worse. It is high time we strictly regulate all such construction activities to minimise damage to the hills”.

Despite fragile Himalayan ecosystem, construction of hydroelectric projects continues…

Pointing out that Himalayas were earthquake-prone due to its several thrusts and faults, Prof. Valdiya, who was addressing a seminar on “Challenges to save Uttarakhand” that was organised by Uttarakhand People’s Forum” said: “Any further destruction in this highly eco-sensitive zone could lead to major catastrophe. As the entire hilly area of the state – from Kali river to Tons river – falls in seismically active zone and has weak mountains, any kind of major mining, construction and blasting activity would further weaken these hills. In times of any natural disaster like earthquake, cloudburst and landslides, we will see massive destruction.”

Prof. Valdiya said he had been warning against impending danger of unplanned construction and development works since 1985 when he had carried out a vast survey of the entire area and found that there were hundreds of faults and thrusts in upper Himalayas that could cause natural calamity. Focusing on roads that have been badly affected by recent flashfloods, Prof. Valdiya said he was not against construction of roads as they were lifeline of the region, but warned against carrying of road construction by blatantly blasting hills and on areas near river beds.

Echoing similar sentiments, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People’s Coordinator Himanshu Thakkar said massive deforestation, violation of all construction norms in hydropower projects and complete absence of disaster management plans has led to the massive scale of destruction in the Himalayas. “What Uttarakhand faced last month, other states like Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and the North-East might have to go through similar tragedy due to lack of proper planning and unmindful construction activities in this highly fragile zone,” he added.

Lambasting the Centre and the Uttarakhand government for having ignored warnings of environmentalists, Mr. Thakkar said all false claims were made while promoting the run-of-the-river hydropower projects that no major construction activity was required for the same. “But the fact was that apart from creating reservoirs, blasting of hills is done to create huge canals, thus disturbing the entire ecology of the area. With 336 total operational and planned hydropower projects in Uttarakhand, one can imagine the kind of damage is being done to the Himalayas,” he warned.

According to social activist and journalist Shekhar Pathak: “The challenge now is reconstruction and rehabilitation…The government now need to focus on planned and restricted construction keeping mind the needs of local people.” Calling for controlled access of people to places of pilgrimage and tourism, particularly those in sensitive zones, he blamed mad rush of tourists for putting fragile ecology of the region in danger.


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