Firecracker bursting new in Kedarnath, can impact glaciers & wildlife: Experts warn as videos emerge

A section of experts say wildlife moved away from human presence, may not have an impact

By Varsha Singh
Published: Wednesday 15 November 2023
A screengrab from a video clip circulating on social media showing loud firecrackers burst near Kedarnath temple__

Photographs and videos showing people bursting firecrackers on the premises of Kedarnath temple are making the rounds on social media. The video clip showed loud bangs of firecrackers, lights and clouds of smoke along with the echo of the ringing temple bells, raising alarm over the effect of such crackers in the geologically sensitive glacier region.

The environment in Kedarnath Dham has changed much to the disappointment of the locals, said geologist SP Sati. “From issues like haphazard construction work to noisy helicopters, the local people are angry. Visitors to the Dham are now tourists, not pilgrims,” he said. 

Kedarnath fireworks are dangerous in every way. It will have a negative impact on wildlife, butterflies, birds, plants, herbs, and so on, Sati said. “We don't even need to be scientists to point this out,” he added. 

Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, the largest protected area of ​​Uttarakhand, is situated in an area of ​​975 square kilometres between Kedarnath in Rudraprayag and Badrinath in Chamoli. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature list, this is the migration point for many endangered animals. 

Many wild animals, like the snow leopard, Himalayan tahr, musk deer, red fox, Himalayan porpoise, black bear, Himalayan marmot, monal and griffon vulture live here. Thirty species of mammals, 240 species of birds, 147 species of butterflies, nine species of snakes and 10 species of fishes have been recorded in the sanctuary.

Experts from the Zoological Survey of India are studying the extinct wildlife along with the present-day wildlife in Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary. The study will see how many animals are present in the sanctuary and how many have migrated or become extinct.

Wildlife has moved away from the areas of human traffic in Kedarnath, said Gaurav Sharma, a researcher who is in charge of the institute’s northern region. 

“We studied the Kedarnath track for 10 days and found that there was no wildlife movement around the track,” said Sharma. Vulnerable creatures, such as musk deer, avoid approaching humans; they flee quickly and hide upon detecting human activity. 

Noise by fireworks and helicopers does not have any direct impact on the creatures living in the sanctuary, said Sharma. “The noise around Kedarnath temple will not be heard where the animals are,” he said. 

However, research conducted on the sanctuary has clarified that, due to many natural and human pressures, there is a decline in wildlife in Kedar Valley. The helicopter services operating here are disturbing the behaviour, movement and life of wild animals. Therefore, there is an urgent need to take remedial measures.

According to customs, local communities avoid even speaking loudly near forests. 

“While passing near the forests in the hilly areas, we did not voluntarily speak in a loud voice,”  environmentalist Chandi Prasad Bhatt once told Down To Earth. “We would even walk quietly so that the animals, birds, trees and plants of the forest do not face any problems.”

Rudraprayag resident and former member of legislative assembly Manoj Rawat also agreed with Bhatt. “Considering the sensitivity of Kedarnath, our ancestors never made noise there. The shepherds grazing sheep and goats there also talk in a low voice. Fireworks are a new tradition near Kedarnath temple. The temple needs to tighten its rules. Discipline is necessary in such places,” said Rawat.

Loud fireworks also have an effect on glaciers. Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology scientist Dr Manish Mehta said Chaurabadi and Companion glaciers are just behind Kedarnath. “The noise of helicopters already echoes here. Pollution caused by firecrackers will be a new challenge for this area. We cannot justify such activities in any way. The protection of this heritage is our responsibility,” Mehta said.

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