Sustainability potential, carrying capacity of the 13 states in Himalayan region has not been studied, alleges plea; warns of more ecological disasters
The disaster in Joshimath has once again raised the question of the effect of human activities on the Himalayas, including the possibility of a major earthquake in the Himalayan region, as warned by research institutes. The Supreme Court of India has also taken cognisance of a petition demanding an ecological survey of the states in the Himalayan region.
Advocate Akash Vashisht has filed the plea on behalf of former-Indian Police Service officer Ashok Kumar Raghav in the Supreme Court.
The sustainability potential of the 13 states present in the Indian Himalayan region has neither been studied nor has there been any attempt to control activities like tourism in these fragile eco-states, the petition said.
Read more: Joshimath sinking: National highway construction in 100-km range of border now has riders
Residential areas, presence of vehicles, tourism, availability of natural resources like ground and surface water, food supply, biodiversity, weather and climate and earthquake zones need to be studied for the eco-sensitive zones, it added.
The carrying capacity of these areas needs to be studied as well. Along with these studies, concrete efforts should be made to regulate and control the activities involving development and human intervention, the plea said.
Supreme Court Chief Justice DY Chandrachud’s bench issued a notice to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change of India. All 13 states in the Himalayan region have been directed to reply to it by March 20, 2023.
The Indian Himalayan region includes Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim, Nagaland, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh. About 50 million people are residents in these states.
One of the main reasons for the subsidence and cracks in 800 houses in Joshimath was uncontrolled construction for hydropower projects and hotels and resorts. The constructions have crossed the holding or tolerance capabilities of Joshimath, the petition said.
Read more: Most Mount Everest glaciers will disappear with climate change, warns study
Apart from Joshimath, other hill stations like Nainital, Mussoorie, Almora, Ranikhet, Mukteshwar, Auli, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Pauri, Bageshwar, Kausani and Pithoragarh are also at risk of subsidence and breaches, the plea said.
Rishikesh, Chamba, Haridra, Shimla, Narkanda, Chamba, Khajjar, Dalhousie, Kasauli, Dharamshala, Manali, Soulang Valley, Koksar, Rohtang Glacier, Srinagar and Leh are also among the areas at risk as the carrying capacity of these places has not been studied, but development work is being carried out.
The Department of Tourism under the Uttarakhand government admitted in the Uttarakhand Tourism Policy, 2018, that identifying permissible carrying capacity is a major challenge.
Apart from this, the Uttarakhand Action Plan on climate change in 2014 also warned that the state is most vulnerable, which can directly affect people's livelihood. In such a situation, carrying capacity study should be the government's priority.
Similarly, tourism in the hill stations of Dhauladhar Circuit, Satluj Circuit, Beas Circuit and Tribal Circuit in Himachal is also dangerous. There is no study of carrying capacity here.
In Himachal, too, blasting activities are going on to construct tunnels. Along with this, muck is being dumped in the Beas river. These activities are also endangering the eco-sensitive area.
The Indian Himalayan region is located in seismic zones 4 and 5, where strong earthquakes can occur, according to the seismic zones given according to the Bureau of Indian Standards.
Read more: Himalayan plunder: Save the springs of the region
Uncontrolled traffic, tourism, blasting in rocks and hilly areas, commercial settlements and multiple hydropower projects have become a threat to the Himalayan states, the plea alleged.
Along with detailed studies regarding carrying capacity in these states, the petition also called for preparing a master plan, tourism plan and development plans for the area.
The Union environment ministry and the state governments have failed to carry these out despite orders from the National Green Tribunal, the petition claimed, asking the Supreme Court to direct the central state governments to work on these.
Matter will next be heard by the Supreme Court on March 20, 2023.
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