In the wake of Shrinking of Joshimath, Uttrakhand, Swadesh Jagran Manch (SJM) on January 28, 2023, organised a roundtable discussion. In the discussion it demanded the government to declare Himalayas as eco sensitive zone.
“Sri Adi Shankaracharya founded the city in the eighth century, where the holy Jyotirlinga is located, which is known as Joshi Math (Jyotir Math). Today, this math is at the brink of collapse. The news of the sinking of Joshi Math has shaken the whole country. Even though some steps have been taken in view of the current crisis, experts believe that the sinking of Joshi Math cannot be stopped. That is, the downfall of this first Jyotir Math established by Adi Shankaracharya cannot be stopped,” emerged from SJM discussion.
“Mishra Commission Report of 1976 that says with reference to the fragile terrain around Joshimath/ upper Alaknanda basin, the Mishra Commission recommended in 1976 a blanket ban on collecting construction material from a radius of 5 km of the Joshimath town. No boulders should be removed either by digging or blasting and no trees should be cut in the landslide zone. The Commission also stated that Joshimath town was located in a fragile sliding zone. Or the Task force report of the planning commission of 2010 saying that “No Go” areas need to be defined. Or the Expert body committee report after 2013 disaster which says that these fragile mountains are overburdened and deforestation and excessive construction works beyond the carrying capacity of these areas is aggravating the effect of disasters,” said SJM on the basis of discussion.
SJM said, “This is not the first time that such a tragedy has happened in the Himalayan region. Earlier in the year 2021 also, 200 people including the laborers of Tapovan dam had died in the Chamoli flood. Earlier in 2013 too, a large number of bridges, roads and buildings had collapsed due to floods in the Ganga, Yamuna and its tributaries in the region after heavy rains. There has been an evident increase in the number of such disasters in the Himalayan region in recent years. These natural calamities cannot be taken lightly.”
“Uncontrolled construction work in such fragile terrain is the reason for the collapse of Joshi Math and recent disasters. It is worth mentioning that the way the mountain was cut at the foothills of Joshi Math for the construction of Char Dham Marg and how without a proper hydrogeological study, the NTPC dug a tunnel in the middle of the mountain for its hydro project, this fragile mountain was destroyed. It is also noticed that due to robust and unplanned construction of high-rise hotels and buildings there is inadequate arrangement for sanitation, which makes Joshimath more unstable and burdened,” it added.
SJM said, “In the name of development, construction work and tampering with nature is going on continuously all over Uttarakhand. Due to the massive deforestation, there is hardly any greenery left on the mountains; and due to this, landslides have become a common feature in these youngest fold mountains. In view of this type of rapid destruction in the past, it has become necessary to consider that the so-called development driven by human greed cannot be allowed to continue. The whole of Uttarakhand and especially the centres of tourist attraction like Nainital and Mussoorie etc. are also on the verge of sinking. Some people believe that a situation like Joshi Math may soon repeat in Nainital and other areas of Garhwal as well. Significantly, in Uttarakhand, and also in other hilly states, the work of widening of roads, construction of tunnels, railway lines, construction of dams etc.; and in addition large-scale building construction, which mostly includes hotel construction, has increased rapidly in the last two decades. During this period, there have been governments of different parties at the center and in the state. So no one political party can be blamed singularly for these disasters.”
“Disastrous construction in the name of development without assessing the expected impact is becoming the cause of today’s and earlier tragedies. This crisis can be avoided only by curbing this indiscriminate construction. But the construction works at different places cannot be stopped without making a law. Legislation is a long process and it is a difficult task to create a consensus of opinion among various stakeholders. The state government can make efforts for this by showing sensitivity that due to the current crisis, the district administration has stopped all the construction activities, but if long-term measures are not thought of, then these construction works will restart again sooner or later. Therefore, it is necessary that long-term measures are taken to deal with this problem. We know that most of the rivers in the country, originate from the Himalayan Mountains. Whereas glaciers are located on the top of the Himalayas, due to global warming in the world, glaciers are melting and because of this not only the sources of drinking water are depleting due to excess flow of water, but the water level of the sea is also increasing,” SJM said.
Talking on different projects, it said, “Various rivers originate under the glaciers. In the past there had been opposition to the obstruction of continuous flow of the Ganga by tampering with nature in the name of building dams on the river Ganga. After protests and agitations and fast unto death by many people including Prof. GD Agrawal, in the year 2010, the central government declared the area of Bhagirathi as eco-sensitive zone. The experience after that is that natural calamities have remained almost non-existent in that area. Similarly, parallel to Bhagirathi area, if Yamunotri, Alaknanda, Mandakini and Kali river & Dhauli Ganga areas are also declared eco-sensitive zones, then only it will be possible to prevent future disasters in this area. Chardham road widening project must regulate the road-width to intermediate standard to minimize the damage to the terrain. Chardham railways is an over ambitious project that will cause much devastation and will further over burden the tourist centric state of Uttarakhand. This project should be reassessed and re-looked at. A detailed carrying capacity assessment of state of Uttarakhand should be done to ensure the number of tourists to these places is accounted for and doesn’t cause environmental over burdening.”
“This Ganga basin is the collective property of the entire country and the cultural sanctity of the Ganga Himalayas is impeccable and must not be compromised at any cost. It is therefore important that these ecologically and culturally sensitive zones should be taken care of, conserved and protected as an inter-generational equity. It has to be understood that present generation and the government has the responsibility of not only the protection of the Himalayan region, but also the future of all the people living on this land, who are dependent on the rivers coming out of this region. The present governments, both at centre and the state, will have to demonstrate utmost sensitivity, otherwise the future generations will never forgive us,” SJM added.