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Eco – Sensitive Zone & the Himalayan Tsunami

Dr Nitin Pandey


When we see on TV, big multistory buildings collapse like a pack of cards in the torrential flood waters, we wonder what were these hotels doing in the river’s flood plain anyway; when they say that over 25,000 tourists were stuck in the Kedarnath valley, we wonder what were so many tourists doing in a narrow steep sensitive valley which should not support more than a few thousand, anyway; and when our CM says on TV that his letters to oppose the eco sensitive zone were correct and had the eco sensitive zone been implemented even then the fatalities would have been same, we bury our heads in despair. How many more people have to die before we realize that we cannot keep exploiting nature and expect it to be forgiving?

Disaster in Uttarakhand

That this was a man-made disaster is beyond doubt. Much more extreme weather is experienced in Europe yet have we ever heard of landslides killing hundreds of people there? Explaining this on Himalayas being relatively new may be partly true, but what is equally true is the care they take of their environment. River beds are free of encroachments, there is no illegal mining, buildings are appropriate to the geographical situation, roads are built scientifically without blasting the mountains and damaging the ecosystem and the green cover over mountains is preserved. So, when nature unleashes its fury, there are floods but literally no one is harmed. In Uttarakhand we do exactly the opposite. Encroach, with government support, every possible inch of river bed, blast away the mountains with impunity, throw all the debris into the rivers, make dams almost along the entire river stretch and then again throw the debris into the river, give free run and government protection to the mining mafia and then blame nature for disasters when they happen.

What about Dehra Dun?
According to a study conducted by IIRS about 60% buildings will be damaged in Dehra Dun in a Grade 7 earthquake. Can aid be delivered in narrow lanes of Paltan Bazaar? When in normal conditions an ambulance takes 2 hours to reach, what will happen in a chaotic situation following an earthquake? Last year a mock rescue drill was conducted in Connaught Place, after blocking off traffic, even here no heavy equipment for rescue. Is that enough? Are we prepared?
Politicians cutting across party lines make money by destroying nature, rich businessmen make money by exploiting the rules with the help of these politicians and left to bear the brunt of the subsequent disasters are ordinary innocent people who live there or visit there expecting to be in nature’s lap. Greed for money leads to construction of more and more hotels, more and more tour operators bringing more and more tourists, more and more construction places an ever increasing strain on the local natural resources and the result is there for all to see. Who cares what the system can take, keep extracting more and more, hoping it will never break, but break it will, as it did recently with disastrous consequences.

Greed for money led both the present and previous Chief Ministers to oppose the Eco sensitive zone notification. After all, stopping the timber, mining and construction mafias will only harm the politicians. Recent shifting of Nanital SSP for taking effective steps for controlling the illegal mining allegedly on the directions of no less than the State Congress President is a typical example of the politician-mafia nexus.

Eco-Sensitive Zone notification prohibits construction in river beds, prohibits blasting of mountains, prohibits denuding of mountains and prohibits construction of ugly cemented luxury hotels in the fragile eco-system. It places no restriction on making roads, in a proper scientific manner without use of explosives, it places no restrictions on making hotels conforming to the local architecture, it places no restrictions on use of gravel and sand for local use by residents, yet our politicians, to serve the interests of various mafias, deliberately spread disinformation, many times blatantly false, to portray the Eco sensitive zone notification as harmful for the interests of the local people. If the notification was in force, the sight of buildings crumbling into raging flood waters would not have been there, simply because those buildings would not have been there. If tourism was regulated, if there was some control on vehicles entering the highly sensitive zones, if there was some control on the mushrooming of hotels, if there was some mechanism of reacting to the high alert of severe rainfall, obviously the loss of life would have been much less. There was absolutely no attempt to even warn the people from lower reaches of the mountains before the flood water poured in and people were left to fend for themselves. Sadly, after a few days, once the TV cameras have gone, everything will be forgotten, just as it was forgotten last year, and the year before that, till the next disaster. Promises of equipping each remote area with a satellite phone were never fulfilled, detailed plans and Standing Operating Instructions for disasters were never laid down at district level, equipment needed for disaster relief was never procured even though crores of rupees were received for it and adequate manpower for large scale disasters was never identified. After each disaster, everything was promptly forgotten and there is no reason, it will again not be forgotten this time.

Looking ahead, one really hopes and prays that the government once again does NOT go ahead simply repair the damaged roads once again. Such unscientific roads are destroyed literally every year, leaving everyone in a limbo and yet, they are again remade precisely the same way only to be washed away again soon. There is no reason why roads cannot be made without cutting the mountains. Why roads can’t be made as they are the world over, straight, on elevations and through tunnels? Such roads are weather proof and make travelling in mountains much safer and faster. True the initial cost is high but they are spared from these yearly disasters. Or is it that making and remaking roads profitable to some, hence there is no attempt to make them in the modern technique? The current way of making roads in the mountains is TOTALLY unacceptable.
Looking Ahead
  1. Do not allow destroyed buildings to be rebuilt in the same place. They will again be destroyed one day with loss of life.
  2. Do not rebuild washed away roads and bridges by blasting mountains. Make new all-weather roads with new technology, without cutting the mountains.
  3. Strictly regulate tourist vehicles going for the Char Dham Yatra. Give passes at Rishikesh and other entry points mentioning permitted destinations. Check the passes along the route and control strictly the volume of traffic driving in hills and number of tourists in any particular place.
  4. Set up Standard Protocols which get triggered automatically at weather alerts or news of disasters.
  5. Remove all encroachments from river’s flood bed.
  6. Immediately implement the Eco sensitive Zone notification for Bhagirathi.
  7. Respond to Central Government’s request to identify and regulate other eco sensitive zones in Uttarakhand.
  8. Give police freedom to act tough against all kinds of mafias in Uttarkahand.
Uttarakhand politicians must give up their resistance to the eco-sensitive zone and immediately start implementing it. Reconstruction, when it starts, must conform to these guidelines and buildings which were washed away this year must not be allowed to come up again under any circumstances. All encroachments on river beds must be removed and the illegal mining mafia must be tackled even if the politicians suffer financially from this. Traffic ahead of Rishikesh must be strictly regulated and a limit set on the number of people heading towards the Char Dhams, the limit being decided by experts in the field. Short term financial losses must not be allowed to override safety concerns. State Disaster Management Committee must be totally revamped and made more effective and accountable. Warnings from Meteorological Department of extreme weather must trigger a set protocol automatically without any outside interference. Unless we effectively undertake such steps, disasters of bigger and bigger magnitude will strike Uttarakhand every year leaving the innocent dead.

Surat learnt from its plague and is today one of India’s cleanest city, will Uttarakhand learn from this man-made disaster.

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From: Your post captures the issue pereyctlf!
Your post captures the issue pereyctlf!

From: Hi Gaby,I hope you're well. Well done on the amazing 7th place on the Tour Auto. We're ptnitug together a fantastic team for the Coupe es Alpes next month. Let me know if you want to join us! Best, Thomas
Hi Gaby,I hope you're well. Well done on the amazing 7th place on the Tour Auto. We're ptnitug together a fantastic team for the Coupe es Alpes next month. Let me know if you want to join us! Best, Thomas