Uncontrolled construction brought Joshimath on brink of sinking, say experts; demand Himalayas to be declared as eco-sensitive zones

PTI, Jan 29, 2023, 9:28 AM IST

New Delhi: Unplanned and uncontrolled construction in the name of development in Uttarakhand has brought Joshimath on the brink of sinking, experts said on Saturday and demanded that Himalayas be declared an eco-sensitive zone.

In a resolution passed at the roundtable organised by the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), experts termed as “inadequate” the steps taken to deal with the prevailing situation in subsidence-hit Joshimath.

They also asked the government to consider taking long-term measures to address the problem, saying a similar situation may arise in Nainital, Mussoorie and other areas of Garhwal as well if the “so-called development driven by human greed” is not checked in the hill state.

“Declare Himalayas as an eco-sensitive zone. Regulate big projects causing devastation,” the resolution said.

While the width of the road under the Char Dham road widening project must be regulated to intermediate standard to minimize the damage to the terrain, Char Dham railways project should be reassessed and re-looked at, it added.

“Chardham railways is an over ambitious project that will cause much devastation and will further overburden the tourist centric state of Uttarakhand. This project should be reassessed and re-looked at,” the resolution said.

A detailed carrying capacity assessment of Uttarakhand should be done to ensure that the number of tourists visiting these places is accounted for and also to ensure that tourist flow doesn’t cause environmental overburdening, it added.

The roundtable, organised to deliberate on the topic ‘Imminent Himalayan Crisis’, was attended by former chairperson of a Supreme Court-appointed committee on the Centre’s Char Dham project Ravi Chopra, its former member Hemant Dhyani and others, SJM co-convenor Awshwani Mahajan told PTI.

“Sri Adi Shankaracharya founded the city in the eighth century, where the holy Jyotirlinga is located, which is known as Joshimath (Jyotir Math). Today, this math is at the brink of collapse. The news of the sinking of Joshimath has shaken the whole country,” Mahajan said.

“Even though some steps have been taken in view of the current crisis, experts believe that the sinking of this first Jyotir Math established by Adi Shankaracharya cannot be stopped,” he added.

Terming the steps taken by the government to deal with the prevailing situation as “inadequate”, the resolution noted that while on one hand a large number of people are going to be displaced due to the sinking of Joshimath, on the other, the solution is being sought only by way of rehabilitation of affected residents.

“Currently the work on mega projects in this area – the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) hydropower project, Helang bypass road construction which is part of Chardham road widening project and ropeways project, has been stopped by the district administration succumbing to the local protests,” it noted.

It can be seen that areas such as Bhagirathi ESZ, where large scale mega projects have not been implemented and the local ecology has not been tampered with, land subsidence, landslide incidents and devastating disaster events are minimum to none, it underlined.

“This is proof enough that the indiscriminate, unplanned robust construction everywhere else in Uttarakhand has directly or indirectly impacted and aggravated the disaster like situation,” it added.

It is worth mentioning that the way the mountain was cut at the foothills of Joshimath for the construction of Chardham Marg and how without a proper hydrogeological study, the NTPC dug a tunnel in the middle of the mountain, this fragile mountain was destroyed,” the resolution noted.

“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 said.

“Due to all this, today the entire area of Joshimath is sinking and there is no way we can save the same,” it added.
In the name of development, the resolution noted, 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, it claimed.

“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,” the resolution said.

“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. It is necessary that long-term measures are taken to deal with this problem,” it demanded.

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