Tremors From Himalayas – Chardham Project work in high-risk seismic zones can put tremendous pressure on a super-sensitive ecological area

Source: The post is based on the article “Tremors From Himalayas – Chardham Project work in high-risk seismic zones can put tremendous pressure on a super-sensitive ecological areapublished in The Times of India on 23rd March 2023.

Syllabus: GS – 3: Disaster Management.

Relevance: About widening roads in Char dham.

News: Recently, the National Capital Region felt long-lasting tremors. This is a cause of worry as much of the North is categorised under various risk-prone seismic zones.

Why North India is more vulnerable to earthquakes?

North India lies in a major geological faultline, the Main Central Thrust Line. This is formed when the Indian (tectonic) plate is pushed under the Eurasian plate. This is categorised under the highest seismic zones 4 and 5.

About the Chardham Project work in high-risk seismic zone

Bhagirathi ecosensitive zone is a 100-km stretch of valley and sheer cliff through which Ganga flows from Gaumukh glacier. The government is starting work on widening the road to 12m width as part of its Chardham Pariyojana (CDP).

The SC bench led by Justice Nariman formed a high-powered committee (HPC) to ensure the project conformed to the Himalayan terrain. The committee recommended a narrower “intermediate width”.

Accordingly, the ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) had amended the width reducing it to “intermediate width”. But later, the CDP was changed into a defence project. Thus nullifying the committee recommendations. This wider road requires a ‘right of way’ double that of an intermediate width.

Read more: SC approves widening of three Char Dham highways

What are the concerns in widening roads in Char dham?

Neglected HPC recommendations: HPC members were unanimous that “road widening activities should only be undertaken after… environment impact assessment and mitigation measures”  are done. Further, it recommended, the “felling of deodar trees should be avoided”.

But 8,000 deodars have been demarcated for felling in Bhagirathi zone alone.

Increased landslide: An unprecedented number of 200+ landslides have been reported on the CDP route since hill-cutting began.

Not followed other protocols: The environment ministry’s latest guidelines for highways in border areas mandate slope assessment, which has not been done. Even if it is done, the report is not in the public domain yet.

Read more: Explained: What’s in Uttarakhand’s Char Dham Act, and why it is being withdrawn

What should be done?

Follow checks and balances: Violation of checks and balances has resulted in the flooding of Kedarnath, Asi Ganga flooding of 2012, the Rishiganga floods of 2021, the Joshimath subsidence and other disasters. So, the government should strictly follow the conditions.

Follow farsighted approach: Building infrastructure in the Himalayas needs a carefully considered, farsighted, cautious and gentle approach.


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