‘Assault on the Himalayas’: Chairman of Char Dham Committee resigns

The belief that the HPC could protect this fragile ecology has been shattered. I can do no more, Ravi Chopra wrote

By DTE Staff
Published: Saturday 12 February 2022
Construction work for the Char Dham project on the outskirts of Rishikesh. Photo: Vikas Choudhary / CSE

Environmentalist Ravi Chopra has resigned as chairman and member of the High Powered Committee (HPC) for the Char Dham Project, citing an assault on the Himalayas in an explosive letter.

Chopra was offered the chairmanship of the HPC in September 2019. He mentioned what compelled him to take it up in his letter:

In September 2019, when asked to accept the assignment to chair the HPC, I deliberated whether my age would permit me to fulfill the strenuous responsibilities the assignment entailed. I was compelled to accept by an inner voice born out of a 40-year commitment to help restore the degraded Himalayan environment and the livelihoods of its people.

He continued that “it is that same inner voice now compels me to move out. The belief that the HPC could protect this fragile ecology has been shattered. I can do no more. I therefore choose to resign.”

Read Down To Earth’coverage on the Char Dham Project

He wrote that sustainable development demanded approaches that were both geologically and ecologically sound.

Such development also enhances disaster-resilience and hence national security, especially when climate challenges to slope stability are becoming far more unpredictable, Chopra added.

He noted:

As a member of the HPC, however, I saw at close quarters the desecration of the once impregnable Himalayas … I have seen engineers armed with modern technological weapons assaulting the Himalayas. They have slashed through pristine forests, wounding vulnerable Himalayan slopes to widen highways. Ever-increasing numbers of tourists speed along them, their vehicles spewing noxious gases that cover the towering peaks ahead in an unsightly haze. The engineers exult and circulate photographs proving their conquest of Nature, little realising that they too are a part of Nature and cannot survive if their own natural environment is destroyed.

Chopra continued that “nature, however, neither forgets nor forgives such willful wrongs inflicted on her treasures. Already we have witnessed stretches of roads disappear that have later taken months to repair. Nature sounded warning bells in June 2013 and February 2021 with disastrous consequences.”

He called the Himalayas, the ‘marvel of Nature’.

Chopra quoted the historian Arnold J Toynbee, who had expressed wonder on a flight over the snow-clad Himalayan peaks in 1929:

…for mankind is part of Nature, and, like non-human Nature, we owe our existence to the reality that is the mysterious common source of non-human Nature and ourselves…

The Char Dham Road Project proposes widening of roads up to 10 metres to improve the accessibility to the Char Dham (Four shrines): Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath.

Down To Earth has expressed strict reservations about the project since the start. We travelled 250 km on the Char Dham Mahamarg from Rishikesh to Gangotri in 2019 and found that the project had cost Uttarakhand its ecological balance.

In 2020, an opinion piece published on DTE’s website talked about how blasting for road construction under the project was causing landslides in the region.

An opinion piece published on the DTE website in 2021 warned that a significant portion of the project fell under the dry deciduous biome along the dry slopes of rivers. Ruthless harvesting could be perilious for biodiversity and regional ecology, it said.

In December 2021, Priyadarshini Patel from Ganga Ahvaan wrote for the DTE website about the damage that the project would cause after the Supreme court ruled in favour of a massively wide, 10-metres tarred surface, double-lane paved shoulder, road width design for the Char Dham Pariyojna.

Petitioners and experts of the HPC tasked with reviewing this project had pleaded for a narrower intermediate width, 5.5-metres tarred surface.

Uttarakhand, where the project is being executed, will go to the polls to elect a new assembly February 14, 2022.

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