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Bhagarathi Eco-sensitive zone notification

Falsehoods & conjectures fly in the air in a sustained disinformation campaign against the notification

Dr Nitin Pandey


When Uttarakhand CM talks of villages having to be relocated because of the recent notification of eco-sensitive around Bhagirathi, people have reasons to be alarmed. When Tehri MP speaks of tourism and pilgrimage being hit, people have reasons to be alarmed. When newspaper reports say India’s defense preparedness along the China border will be hit because of the notification, everyone has reasons to be alarmed. When RLEK Chairman speaks of a 5 kms no development zone next to Bhagarati, people living there panic. But what if everything claimed above is untrue? Would we then attribute such statements from our leaders to ignorance or purposeful deceit?

The eco-sensitive zone notification , Government of India Gazette Notification Number 2429 dated 18th December 2012, is a public document available online at
The truth is that if anyone is harmed by this 41 page document then it is the construction lobby, the mining mafia, the timber mafia and the rich people who want to make big hotels in the area. There is absolutely NOTHING in the notification which harms in any way the common man who resides in the area. On the contrary, the notification strengthens the hands of a common citizen, much to the chagrin of the moneyed exploiters of Uttarakhand, whose exploits of Uttarakhand’s natural resources will now be curtailed. Let’s examine each of the purported allegations in detail.

In a nutshell, the notification declares an area of 4179.59 sq.kms around Bhagirathi, starting from Gaumukh and ending just before Uttarkashi, as eco-sensitive. It directs the State Government to prepare a Zonal Master Plan for the area, after involving local population especially the women, keeping in mind certain do’s and don’ts, so that both the environment and the rights of local people are not harmed. The implementation of the Master Plan will be monitored by a Monitoring Committee comprising of NGOs working in the area in the field of environment and heritage conservation, town planners in the area, DM, Secretary Pollution Control Board Uttarakhand, Chief Conservator of Forests Garhwal, Representative of State Irrigation Department & Ministry of Environment & Forests and an expert in field of environment and ecology. The key point is that the plan will be prepared by the State Government in consultation with local people, so the involvement of common people (not the contractors) is assured, therefore it is unlikely to contain anything detrimental to the residents of the area.

The notification will lead to displacement of villages:

Nothing can be further from truth that such claims. The notification in fact strengthens the villages by ensuring an orderly growth, by compelling the government to provide for safe and effective sanitation and by ensuring that the traditional construction is not swamped by multi storey buildings, obviously much to the anguish of building contractors. Section 2 (8) of the notification reads “The Zonal Master Plan shall regulate the development in the Eco-sensitive zone so as to meet the requirement of local people without effecting the rights and privileges of the bona-fide residents and also ensure eco-friendly development of their livelihood security”
So, who fears this?
Section 2 (12) reads “No change of land use from green uses such as horticulture areas, agriculture, tea gardens, parks and others like places to non-green uses shall be permitted in the Zonal Master Plan. However, to meet the residential needs of the local residents due to the natural growth of existing local population, strictly limited conversion of agricultural lands shall be permitted, with the prior approval of the Central Government on the recommendation of the State Government.”
So, who would fear this? Those who want to buy cheap land in the mountains and build five star hotels.

The notification will not let people build homes:

Again, it is a totally incorrect statement.
Section 3 (111) prohibits mining of minerals and stones except by local residents for their personal use. Wood collection, felling of trees for local activities and livelihood is allowed under Section 3 (iv). There is no mention of prohibition of construction within 5 kms of the river as alleged by RLEK recently in a press release.

The notification will hinder road construction:

Nothing can be further away from truth than such a statement. Section 19 of the notification deals with the construction of roads and places absolutely no restrictions in road construction and even tree felling, as long as they do not damage the environment. No blasting of rocks, no dumping of debris, ensuring water drainage from the roads, notifications for motorists in land slide prone areas. There is absolutely NO impediment in widening of roads or making new ones.
So, who would fear this? Those who blast every rock they see and dump everything in the river.

The notification will harm our border security:

Another blatant lie.
There is no hindrance in road widening, which could affect troop movement. There is absolutely no ban in road construction. A proposed army firing range is probably under question mark, but if the firing range has to be set up near Gangotri and simply cannot be shifted anywhere else, which is very unlikely, then permission is required from Ministry of Environment. There is no blanket ban in setting up defense installations.
So, why are our leaders using national security as a weapon against the notification is anyone’s guess.

The notification will harm tourism:

This is one of the most ridiculous assertions, unfortunately ascribed to our honorable Member of Parliament.
Section 18 of the notification, deals with Tourism and calls for setting up a Tourism Master Plan, to promote tourism without harming nature. Section 2 (10) calls for encouragement of development of walking paths for tourists and pilgrims. Section 2(7) says new hotels and resorts coming up in the area will follow the traditional concepts and architecture of the area. Section 17 mandates the State government to preserve natural springs and water bodies and Section 20 calls for identification and preservation of scenic beauty spots, confluence points of rivers, water falls, walks, hikes, bridle paths, caves, pools and wooded areas.
So, who will be afraid of this? Obviously, those wanting to construct five star hotels and ugly concrete structures.

Issue of hydroelectricity projects:

All hydro projects, other than micro (upto 100 kv) and mini (upto 2 MV) are totally banned in the area as is tunneling of river, making dams and constructing reservoirs. Press reports saying that upto 25 MV are allowed are totally baseless. Section 3 (c) encourages micro hydel projects and solar energy for local use. The loss of electricity to the nation has obviously been factored in, since it is a central notification. Villages will get locally produced electricity, which is what it should anyway have been.
So, who will be afraid of this? Contractors, who make hay from building dams, no body else.

To conclude, one can say with certainty that there has been a sustained motivated and totally baseless campaign against the notification carried out with the intent of scaring the common people and leading them to believe that their lives will be totally ruined by this notification. On the contrary, the truth is that the lives of residents of all villages and towns in the area will be made more secure, safe and immune from exploitation by moneyed people. It contains nothing other than common sense issues which our State Government should have implemented on it’s own, without waiting for the notification. Why our leaders give out factually incorrect statements is anyone’s guess.

Activities totally prohibited under the notification Regulated activities
  1. Hydro electricity projects other than micro and mini
  2. Extraction of river water for industrial projects
  3. Commercial mining of minerals and stone quarrying
  4. Commercial felling of trees
  5. Commercial use of firewood
  6. Polluting industries
  7. Discharging untreated sewage and industrial effluents into river
  8. Plastic carrybags.
  9. Hazardous waste processing units.
  1. Defense installations and other infrastructure related to National Security
  2. Pine plantation
  3. Introduction of Exotic species
  4. Establishment of hotels & resorts
  5. Erection of electric cables
  6. Tree felling
  7. water extraction for sale
  8. Sign boards and hoardings

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From: Mahesh
Thanks for the informative essay Nitin. Many of us, who live far away from the borders, have no clue. Keep up the good work!