‘Not Just Joshimath, Entire Uttarakhand is Sitting on a Powder Keg’
Suresh Nautiyal, a veteran environmentalist based in Uttarakhand, says consecutive governments have systematically blown away the gains of Chipko Movement
They have torn apart the heart of the hills in Uttarakhand. And this has been going on for decades, under all governments, be it the Congress or BJP. Indeed, the entire state is sitting on the brink of a man-made catastrophe.
Governments have cared two hoots for the vulnerable ecology of the hill state and willfully aligned with corporations, contractors, industrial companies and the construction mafia to irretrievably damage the inherent balance of nature. Roads, big dams which displaced thousands, real estate and mindless constructions violating all norms, unknown tunnels and aggressive religious tourism has all turned the clock to its current, tragic fate.
The murder of natural streams and rivers, the massacre of trees, the non-stop destruction of the organic eco-system in the relentless race for a capitalist model of unplanned development, blindly copying big cities in the plains, has ravaged the pristine ‘Dev Bhoomi’.
Joshimath is located on a ridge cut through by streams that descend from Vishnuprayag where Dhauliganga and Alaknanda rivers converge. Serious apprehensions were expressed in 2013 that the tunnels of the Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydropower Project of the NTPC could cause huge damage.
A recent report by geologists and scientists like Dr SP Sati, Naveen Juyal and Shubhra Sharma was ignored. They said the slopes around the town were in delicate and unstable condition. Predictably, their concerns and warnings were overlooked.
The government-appointed Mishra Commission’s report, submitted in 1978, had clearly stated that no major construction work be carried out in Joshimath, as well as in the Niti and Mana valleys, since this region is situated on moraines.
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Several authoritative reports predicted this impending catastrophe. But, they continued to build tunnels, structures and digging, to appease their masters, and to legitimize the big thermal power plant project. Now the entire town, a major landmark in the pilgrim and adventure route, is sitting on a volcanic moment of destruction, with thousands of people and homes under threat, and the authorities are pretending that they had no clue!
The 125-km Rishikesh-Karnaprayag railway line, being constructed reportedly at a whopping cost of Rs 20,000-crore, will lead to the construction of 35 bridges and 17 tunnels. The project cost will inevitably increase in the years to come. Hence, one can see the ‘real reason’ behind this project!
This has been a pattern in the entire state from Harsil to Karnaprayag, which is literally sitting on perennial landslides. So much so, pleas by civil society groups have been dumped in the garbage can. We have been pleading for so long for an alternative eco-friendly approach to development because of the special conditions in the hills, but they refuse to listen.
Several towns like Gangotri, Uttarkashi and Gopeshwar are sinking. Landsides, cloudbursts and flash floods are inevitable and have become part of the tragic lives of the condemned people of Uttarakhand.
Now, they have cut lakhs of trees for the expressway and multi-lane for the ‘Char Dham Yatra’, the pet project of the prime minister. This has effectively destroyed all the gains of the Chipko Movement and after. This will certainly have an extremely damaging impact on the fragile Himalayan eco-system.
The central and state government, therefore, should treat the situation as an emergency, and immediately stop all construction work in the state, including thermal power projects. And this must include the PM’s pet project. Indeed, we need a serious rethink. Or else, one Joshimath would follow another!
(The narrator is a member of the Uttarakhand Chintan Group founded in 2007)
As told to Amit Sengupta
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