Rampant construction, Char Dham project may amplify ecological risk

The noise of stone crushers and earthmoving gear mars the silence of the excessive Himalayas on the street from Rudraprayag to Joshimath at a top of over 1,000 metres, after which once more, up from Joshimath, round 2,000 metres excessive.

It’s the sound of hills being eaten into for the Char Dham street project; the rubble, together with enormous boulders from the blasted hill slopes are gathered all alongside the street, some perilously near the sting. Geologists say this could’t be good for the excessive Himalayas.

The Centre submitted to the Supreme Court on Wednesday there is no such thing as a hyperlink between the February 7 glacier lake overflow flood that washed away two hydropower tasks on the Rishi Ganga and probably killed not less than 150 individuals and the Char Dham project.

But geologists and scientists say that collectively, the street building and hydropower tasks have elevated the vulnerability of the area. They warn that many stretches of the Himalayas on the Char Dham route are actually at risk of partial collapse.

One of the contentious factors within the street project is the width. The apex court docket on September 9 dominated that the street width shall not exceed the 5.5 metres laid out in 2018 by the ministry of street transport and highways (MoRTH) for roads beneath building in mountainous terrain. But a big a part of the 900km project that guarantees to supply all-weather connectivity to 4 Hindu pilgrimage centres in Uttarakhand has already been constructed with 10 metre-width.

Experts say it’s vital that the injury is stopped instantly owing to excessive seismic exercise within the area and careless building practices. “This road project is viable and there is a need for better connectivity and roads. But are ample precautions being taken to minimise damage? No. Have you conducted the study necessary to understand implications of this nature of construction?” mentioned Navin Juyal, a retired geologist from the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad and member of the high-powered committee fashioned by the apex court docket to look at the environmental implications of the Char Dham project.

“For Himalayan roads, three things are very important to consider: One is the slope. In Rishikesh for example there are lower slopes and as you go higher up, the slopes are steep which can be prone to erosion. The other important aspect is the nature of rocks. Are they inclined towards the road or the other side? The third is extent of vegetation and loose material on the hill being cut. One should never do a vertical scarp against the road.”

“The government is saying it wants a 12-metre-wide two-lane road with paved shoulder. If you consider the right of way needed this means 24 metres. How will you get that much area in the high Himalayas? Then you have to cut the hills. No wonder over 50,000 trees had to be cut to make way for some of these stretches. But have we assessed what’s the collateral damage?” requested Juyal, giving the instance of a 10km stretch, Totaghati, forward of Rishikesh the place rock composition within the hills change virtually each 100 metres. The stretch consists of limestone, quartzite and slate. “As you know some of them are very brittle while some just erode. These have to be studied very carefully but they weren’t.”

Then there’s the seismic risk.

“Chamoli experienced a 6.8 magnitude earthquake in 1999 and Uttarkashi experienced a 6.6 magnitude earthquake in 1991. The main frontal thrust, main boundary thrust and the main central thrust (all geological faults in the Himalayas) are extremely active, which means they have the potential to generate a great earthquake. So, any construction in this region has to be carried out extremely carefully. The Himalayas are still evolving and hence seismologically active,” defined AP Pandey, a scientist on the National Center for Seismology.

Even members of the 21-member majority panel of the SC’s excessive powered committee who supported double- laning of the Char Dham street project, of their report, say slopes are unstable in lots of areas.

“Where there are hard rocks, hills have to be cut vertically. There is little option. But then slope stabilisation has to be carried out. Slopes are unstable in many places… Authorities have been asked to make a detailed project report of unstable slopes so that they can be stabilised,” mentioned Vikram Gupta, scientist on the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology.

The minority committee report, authored by the chairman of the panel, Ravi Chopra, underlined that greater Himalayan rocks are subjected to excessive erosion primarily as a consequence of targeted rainfall, progressively excessive aid (slopes), excessive focus of earthquakes and weak rock sorts. Correspondence within the Current Science journal by MPS Bisht of Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University and Piyoosh Rautela of Disaster Mitigation and Management Centre in 2010 highlighted that catastrophe looms over the Joshimath area.

Situated in proximity of main tectonic discontinuities, Joshimath has been exhibiting indicators of misery as a consequence of burgeoning anthropogenic stress, the paper mentioned. “The Mishra Commission (1976) reported that Joshimath is situated on an old landslide zone and is sinking. The report recommended that heavy construction be banned in the area around Joshimath. Despite being fully aware of the geological/environmental vulnerability of the area, a number of hydroelectric schemes have been sanctioned around Joshimath and Tapovan,” it learn. These warnings weren’t heeded to by the Char Dham project.

“The problem is government doesn’t consult scientists when implementing a project. We are called to give our opinion and the matter ends there,” mentioned senior geologist, professor YP Sundriyal of the Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University.

Bharat Singh, a resident of Raini village, which was devastated by the February flood, was among the many first to note a cloud of particles and ice flowing down and destroying Rishi Ganga and Tapovan tasks. He mentioned: “Our hills have been destroyed. Tunnels have been dug up on the river. I wonder if these disasters are because of such projects? Only gods can help us.”

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