The Great Himalayan Tragedy
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The Great Himalayan Tragedy


APLN member Shyam Saran wrote for the Tribune on the continuing ravaging of the very fragile ecology of the Himalayas.

The four- to six-lane Char Dham highway is bringing devotees and other tourists in droves to the entire Alaknanda river valley this summer. When the 127-km Rishikesh-to-Karnaprayag railway line along this valley is completed by the year-end, even larger hordes of people will crowd into these once-remote and pristine locations. A large number of fancy hotels and guesthouses have come up to cater to the expanding number of visitors. Even in the protected sanctuary of Binsar, the sides of the road are piled high with solid waste, in particular plastic waste.

One cannot just make the mountain zone a no-go area nor can one argue that economic activity, which brings livelihoods and incomes, should be foresworn. But there should be more careful and detailed planning before large-scale infrastructure projects are undertaken in these sensitive locations. These are still unstable and shifting terrains, which can be easily disturbed, resulting in frequent landslides and avalanches. Long stretches of the Char Dham highway have been repeatedly affected by landslides, requiring expensive repairs. Several hydroelectric projects on the tributaries of the Ganga have been swept away in sudden storm surges and flash floods, resulting in the loss of lives and property. There is no debris control, with vast piles of earth from these projects simply dumped on the site despite laws requiring their removal. This results in natural drainage being blocked, with waterlogging in the upper reaches and drying up of water channels and natural springs in the lower reaches. One can see this across both Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Whatever be the immediate benefit, such mindless ravaging of nature will bring eventual retribution and greater deprivation to people. The poorest will suffer the most. And one is not even factoring in the adverse effects of global warming, which is already leading to the accelerated melting of the Himalayan glaciers. We are caught in a vicious cumulative dynamic in which climate change and environmental degradation are reinforcing each other. If we do not heed the warning bells ringing across these divine mountains, the temple bells of Char Dham may soon fall silent.

The full article can be accessed here.

Image: iStock/DanielPrudek

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