The Road to a Himalayan Blunder - Daily Current Affair Article

Why in News

  • The Char Dham road project, inaugurated by Prime Minister to widen nearly 900 kilometers of hill roads at the cost of ₹12,000 crores.
  • The project executed by Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), aims to provide all-weather connectivity to the four major shrines of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.
  • This project will increase pilgrimage tourism from the Indian plains and provide attendant local economic dividends.

Unique Features of the Himalayan Ecosystem:

  • Climate Influence: Blessed with high altitude, length and location, they effectively intercept the summer monsoons coming from the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal cause precipitation in the form of rain and snow. "Abode of snow".
  • Defense: Himalayas serve as a defense barrier from the neighboring countries like Nepal, China, Bhutan, Myanmar.
  • Source of rivers: Himalaya act as huge reservoir of water for the north Indian rivers. Almost all the great and perennial rivers of India originate from the Himalayan mountain or glaciers.
  • Fertile soil: Great plains of north India which is the country’s food basket is actually the gift of Himalayas.
  • Hydroelectricity: Deep valley in the Himalayas are the best location for the construction of the dams. The Himalayan region offers several sites which are suitable for the production of the hydroelectricity.
  • Forest Wealth: The Himalayan Ranges are very rich in forest resources. In their rising altitude, the Himalayan ranges show a succession of vegetal cover from the tropic to the Alpine. The Himalayan forests provide fuel wood and a large variety of raw materials for forests based industries.
  • Agriculture: Himalayan slopes are terraced for the cultivation. Rice is the main crop on the terraced slopes. Also tea cultivation is famous in North Eastern Himalayas.
  • Tourism: Himalayas provides the huge scope of tourism due to its scenic beauty and healthy environment. Famous hill stations like Kullu Manali, Shimla, Darjeeling etc are present in Himalayas.
  • Pilgrimage: The Himalaya is abode of the Gods. Mount Kailash is mentioned as the abode of the Lord Shiva in Veda.
  • Minerals: As we known that the Himalayas are the creation of sediments which was deposited by the rivers in Tethys sea. Along with these deposition thousands of the fossils also get buried, which today exits in the form of the minerals.

Concerns:

  • Ecological decline: What should worry Himachal, and neighboring Uttarakhand, is that the States may be entering a phase of irreversible decline because of losses to their ecology; frequent landslides may become inevitable.
  • The use of heavy machinery to flatten land for agriculture or other purposes aggravates the crumbling of hilltops.
  • Highway development: In its 2020 report, the Supreme Court appointed-high-powered committee on the Char Dham project noted the massive slope cutting, unmindful of the irreversible loss it was causing to the fragile terrain.
  • Mega hydropower projects: All Himalayan states are awarding hydroelectric projects to private companies at a breakneck speed—Uttarakhand on the Ganga basin alone has identified projects adding up to nearly 10,000 mw of power and plans for 70-odd projects.
  • Ignoring environmental impact: Kinnaur is a focus point for such development, centered around the potential of the glacially-fed Sutlej valley.
  • There is high seismicity causing fatal landslides and severe damage to hydropower structures in the Himalayas; the cost of power produced was underestimated, while the potential was overestimated.
  • Unsustainable model of tourism: In the IHR include the replacement of traditional eco-friendly and aesthetic architecture with inappropriate, unsightly and dangerous construction, poorly designed roads and associated infrastructure, inadequate solid waste management, air pollution etc.
  • Lack of early warning system: The country lacks a sophisticated warning system for predicting landslides. Preparedness for the hazard and a suitable warning system are vital to preventing loss of  uman lives and property.
  • Climate change: Warming due to climate change was melting the Himalayan glaciers and facilitated avalanches and landslides, and that constructing dams in the fragile ecosystem was dangerous.
  • As glaciers melt due to warming, valleys that were earlier crammed with ice open up, creating space for landslides to move into.
  • In other places, steep mountainous slopes may be partially “glued” together by ice frozen tightly inside its crevices.

Way Forward:

  • The government should realize that the fragility of the Himalayan mountain’s ecosystems. Governments need to re-prioritize their projects based on the potential of the mountains, local and traditional knowledge as well as the aspirations of the place.
  • Projects that are incompatible with the local environment and ecology should not be promoted just by giving due consideration to development or economic growth.
  • National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem (NMSHE) has been launched by the government under National Action Plan of Climate Change (NAPCC) with primary objective to develop sustainable national capacity in a time-bound manner to continuously assess the health status of the ecosystem and draft policy formulations on that line has to be worked upon seriously taking into account the sensitivity of Himalayan ecosystem.

Sources:

General Studies Paper 3
  • Disaster and Disaster Management

Key phrases: ecological decline, Himalayan ecosystem, all-weather connectivity, pilgrimage tourism, local economic dividends, fragile terrain, National Action Plan of Climate Change (NAPCC)