Skip to main content

Disastrous consequences 'await environment' as govt lifts travel restrictions to Char Dham

Gaumukh
By Manasi Hansa* 
The Char Dham Yatra, a pilgrimage to four Hindu shrines located in the Himalayan region, has been opened for tourists this year from 22nd April. Until last year the government had put restrictions on the number of devotees allowed per destination which were revised, considering the outpour exceeding the daily limit.
The revisions capped the daily limit of 16,000 in Badrinath, 13,000 in Kedarnath, 8,000 in Gangotri and 5,000 in Yamunotri, however this year, these restrictions were altogether abolished through a government order just a day before the commencement of the Yatra. The question remains whether this revision makes sense considering the eco-sensitivity of the Himalayan region.
The Himalayan region is known for its fragile ecology, threatened by human activity over the years. Linking the Char Dham Project, comprising the widening of an 825 km road network is set to claim 56,000 trees in total, out of which 36,000 have already been chopped as of 2021. This is unfolding in a region that is already withering from soil erosion and prone to landslides.
A study by the Wadia Institute finds that up to 51% of Uttarakhand is susceptible to landslides, with Rudraprayag and Chamoli districts being the most prone. The Alaknanda Valley consists of at least 510 landslide-prone zones, and undue construction and blasting create new micro cracks in rocks, giving rise to newer landslides.
Joshimath, a town just miles away from Badrinath, is suffering the consequences of indiscriminate construction and development activity. At least 849 houses are inhabitable due to the development of heavy cracks, the future of the town and its residents is uncertain.
Geologist S P Sati expressed fears for the ecology of the region as the infrastructure was insufficient to accommodate the influx. Various hotels, lodges, and resorts are constructed without proper planning or a mindset to attract and accommodate more tourists. Badrinath has a total capacity of 12,000 tourists, not enough to accommodate the daily visitors to the shrine during yatra time. 
A study by Wadia Institute finds 51% Uttarakhand susceptible to landslides with Rudraprayag and Chamoli being the most prone
Let’s not forget the vehicular pollution and waste production that this huge influx of population is going to bring. The combined carbon footprint of this activity is a fundamental contributor towards the melting of ice caps and glaciers in this region.
Gaumukh, where the Ganges emerges from Gangotri Glacier, is not far from where the free reign of human activity has just been sanctioned. It is important to recognize that the Char Dham Yatra is not just a spiritual journey but also an environmental and ecological journey. Sustainable tourism practices that are mindful of the fragile ecology of the region should be prioritized to protect the Himalayan region for future generations.
Considering all these reasons, it is important to reduce human activity in this unique and susceptible ecological zone, but what the present Uttrakhand Government has done is the polar opposite. Recent videos of landslides on Badrinath Highway are only a preview of destruction that also puts the lives of pilgrimage seekers at risk, with the onset of Monsoons such landslides are going to magnify.
It is certain that the revision of the scheme is not a step towards sustainable development but towards dangerous and mindless destruction.
---
*Advocate, alumni of National Law University, Jodhpur, Litigation Lawyer at Dehradun

Comments

Sudhanshu Joshi said…
The disastrous policy of the Uttarakhand Government is blind to the unique himalayan ecosystem and its fragility. Removing caps on flow of tourists is aimed at with impunity driven commercial motivation with political pressure exerted by businesses which largely benefit outsiders. The other commercial interest is of the motor transport association and the Bus operators besides the hospitality industry.The incremental increase in passenger load is without any consideration of the carrying capacity of the himalayan ecosystem. It is anyone's guess that in higher altitude regions what is the percent coverage of waste management handling capacity and waste sites, for liquid and solid waste. The sewerage coverage in Uttarakhand is also questionable and treatment processes for effluents anybody's guess. What is the institutional ability of the state authorities in SUDA, State Sewerage and Water Supply Agency, Uttarakhand Jal Sansthan to manage waster water and storm water is known to everyone.There will be far reaching consequences of destroying this unique himalayan ecosystem which will bring large scale destruction to the entire Indo-Gangetic Plains. The present government and Government of India should understand that excessive exposure to himalayas will generate livelihoods and employment to people definitely but the emerging wide spread destruction will create very large devastation to livelihoods for millions of people who thrive in the Indo-Gangetic plains and threaten our food security. The enormity of costs with this is unimaginable.

TRENDING

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

'Attack on free expression': ABVP 'insults' Udaipur professor for FB post

Counterview Desk   People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Rajasthan, condemning what it called "insult of Professor Himanshu Pandya" by students affiliated with with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarti Parishad (ABVP) in Udaipur, has said he was evicted from the class where he was teaching after raising "ugly slogans", forcing him to "leave the university".

Enhanced rock weathering leads to 9-20% higher crop yield, help climate resilience

By Aishwarya Singhal, Lubna Das*  Enhanced rock weathering -- a nature-based carbon dioxide removal process that accelerates natural weathering -- results in significantly higher first year crop yields, improved soil pH, and higher nutrient uptake, according to a new scientific paper, released in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed open access mega journal published by the Public Library of Science since 2006.

NE India: Creating 'greater divisions', BJP claims to have overcome tyranny of distance

By Makepeace Sitlhou*  In March, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said at an election rally in Arunachal Pradesh that previous governments had not cared for states that sent only two representatives to the country’s Parliament, as Arunachal and several others in the Indian Northeast do. Modi failed to see the irony of his claim given that he has not visited Manipur, which has only two representatives in parliament, since the outbreak of an armed ethnic conflict that has raged on for nearly a year. The toll from the violence stands at more than 200 lives lost, and many thousands displaced.

Will numerically strong opposition in Lok Sabha strengthen democracy?

By Prem Singh*  After the first phase of the 18th Lok Sabha elections, which were conducted in seven phases, it was already indicated that a large part of the country's population had decided to contest the elections against the present government. A large number of unemployed youth and the already agitating farmers played a major role in this act of protest. 

Heatwave in Bundelkhand: 'Inadequate attention' on impact on birds, animals

By Bharat Dogra, Reena Yadav*  While the heat wave and its many-sided adverse impacts have been widely discussed in recent times, one important aspect of heat waves has not received adequate attention and this relates to the impact on birds and animals.

Adivasi rights leader arrested, 'taken away' in unregistered police vehicle

By Our Representative   In a surprise move, a People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) activist, Sunita Potem, who has been raising issues of Adivasi rights in Bastar, has been arrested from Raipur. She was arrested by a team led by DSP Garima Dadar on June 3 "after being pulled out of her room at 8:30 in the morning by the team", sources said.