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Call to urgently build resistance against mega projects causing havoc in Himalayas

By Our Representative 

Sounding alarm over the recent devastating disasters that have wreaked havoc in Himachal Pradesh, civil rights group Himalaya Niti Abhiyan (HNA) at a review meeting in Kullu has expressed concern over the calamitous situation prevailing in the Beas River Basin and downstream. The meeting drew on extensive experience by activists in the Himalayan region.
Guman Singh, convenor, NHA, labeled the current crises in Himachal Pradesh as national calamity fuelled by unchecked development and greed. Pointing blame at the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and the administration for permitting muck dumping and debris from construction and road projects in non-designated sites, he emphasized how this reckless behaviour has intensified the disasters.
Kulbushan Upmanyu, NHA president, expressed deep concern over the collective social and institutional failure, adversely affecting the region's economy and ecology. He urged immediate and long-term measures to prevent an even larger crisis in the future.
BR Kaundal and Joginder Walia of the Bhumi Adhigrahan Prabhavit Manch highlighted the colossal damage caused by the reckless procurement of over 300 JCBs funded by banks solely within the vicinity of Mandi-Kullu area and the building of unrealistic and unplanned 14 helipads concentrated in Janjhehli constituency.
They emphasized the urgency of building resistance against mega projects like the implementation of four-lane highways, as well as the proposed rail line to Leh.
Ramesh Negi, representing the Integrated Mountain Institute, stressed the necessity of forming a government commission of inquiry. Such a commission should assess vulnerabilities and develop effective disaster management strategies, aimed at safeguarding the vulnerable Himalayan region.
Geologist R Sreedhar from Environics Trust advocated a localized development model tailored to the unique Himalayan geography, spanning from plains to cold deserts. He also raised concerns about escalating competition with China, underscoring its potential implications for the region.
Environmental justice researcher-activist Manshi Asher, with Himdhara, questioned accountability for the national calamity, highlighting the pivotal role played by mega hydro and road projects with far-reaching impacts. She urgently called for level three disaster assistance from the Centre.
Archana Vaidya, an environment lawyer, emphasized the necessity of third-party audits to reveal the real picture to the public, acknowledging various factors contributing to the losses.
Former conservator of forests and All India Kisan Sabha leader Kuldip Tanwar stressed the importance of strictly enforcing regulatory laws on planning, carrying capacity, impact assessment, and monitoring to prevent further environmental degradation.
Dr OP Bhuraita, national treasurer, Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti (BGVS), and executive committee member, All India Parivartan Sewa Samiti (AIPSS), called for a people's commission to conduct a comprehensive ground assessment and submit a white paper to the government. He emphasized the importance of a collective understanding and response, with communities and citizens at the heart of the process.
Uma Mahajan, an environmentalist, pointed out that the crony capitalist model, a capital-centric monopolistic approach, was responsible for the devastation. She called for challenging this destructive model.
Sandeep Minhas of the People for Himalayan Development vehemently expressed opposition to the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, citing concerns about its potential to exacerbate the current Himalayan crisis through deforestation and exemptions to strategic linear projects within 100 km of border areas.

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