Not merely Joshimath

Ashwani Mahajan
Adi Shankaracharya founded the city in the eighth century, where the holy Jyotirlinga is located, which is known as Joshimath (Jyotirmath). The news of the sinking of Joshi Math has shaken not only Uttarakhand but the whole country. While on the one hand a large number of people are going to be displaced due to the sinking of Joshi Math city, on the other hand, no political party is coming out with solutions, and are only engaged in blaming each other. Meanwhile, the work in National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) has been stopped as district administration has ordered to stop the construction of the TapovanVishnugarh Hydro Power Project, which also includes the Helang bypass road, due to movement of ‘Joshi Math Bachao Sangharsh Samiti’. The work of Asia’s longest ropeways has also been stopped.
Even though these steps have been taken in view of this crisis, experts believe that the sinking of Joshi Math cannot be stopped. That is, the downfall of this first Jyortir Math established by Adi Shankaracharya cannot be stopped now. This is not the first time that such a tragedy has happened in the Himalayan region. Earlier in the year 2021 also, 200 people including the laborers of Tapovan dam had died in the Chamoli flood. Earlier in 2013 too, a large number of bridges, roads and buildings had collapsed due to floods in the Ganga, Yamuna and its tributaries in the region after heavy rains. There has been a huge increase in the number of such disasters in the Himalayan region in recent years. These natural calamities cannot be taken lightly. It is believed that indiscriminate construction work in the name of development is behind the increasing number of disasters. This means that these disasters are not natural but are man-made.
In view of this type of rapid destruction in the past, it has become necessary to consider that the so-called development driven by human greed cannot be continued in this way. Uncontrolled construction work on such dilapidated and fragile mountain is the reason for the collapse of Joshi Math. It is worth mentioning that the way the mountain was cut at the foothills of Joshi Math for the construction of Char Dham Marg and NTPC dug a tunnel in the middle of the mountain for its hydro project, due to which this fragile mountain was destroyed. After taking stock of that area, it is also noticed that due to the construction of high-rise hotels and buildings there and lack of proper arrangement for sanitation, the instability of this dilapidated area has further increased. Due to all this, today the entire area of Joshi Math is sinking and there is no way we can save the same.
The question is not only of Joshi Math.
In the name of development, construction work and tampering with nature is going on continuously all over Uttarakhand. Due to the cutting of trees, there is hardly any greenery left on the mountains; and due to this, landslides have become a common feature in these dilapidated mountains. The whole of Uttarakhand and especially the centers of tourist attraction like Nainital and Mussoorie etc. are also standing on the verge of sinking. Some people believe that a situation like Joshi Math may be repeated in Nainital as well.
Indiscriminate and mindless construction
Significantly, in Uttarakhand, the work of widening of roads, construction of tunnels, railway lines, construction of dams etc.; and in addition large-scale building construction, which mostly includes hotel construction, has increased rapidly in the last two decades. During this period, there have been governments of different parties at the center and in the state. So no one political party can be blamed singularly for these disasters. It is a scientific fact that the Himalayas are comparatively new mountains and hence they are very fragile. Big tampering in Himalayas, more than its holding capacity causes landslides and land sinking there. Due to such a situation, new constructions in this area cannot sustain and in the present situation it is seen that disastrous accidents are taking place during the construction itself, due to which the construction works are stopped midway. NTPC’s 520 MW hydro power project, which was started in the year 2006 and was initially estimated to cost nearly Rs 3000 crores, its construction work has been repeatedly stopped due to landslides and other natural hinderances and this is the fifth time that Its work has to be stopped. It is believed that its cost has reached around 12 thousand crore rupees so far, and there is no sign of its completion. The same thing applies to the expansion works of the roads. It has to be understood that on the basis of today’s cost, the cost of electricity generated from this hydro project is estimated to be around Rs 25 per unit, while the current cost of solar energy is only Rs 2 and 50 paise per unit; therefore building of hydro power project is actually senseless.
What is the solution?
Disastrous construction in the name of development without assessing the expected impact is becoming the cause of today’s and earlier tragedies. This crisis can be avoided only by curbing this indiscriminate construction. But the construction works at different places cannot be stopped without making a law. Legislation is a long process and it is a difficult task to create a consensus of opinion among various stakeholders. The state government can make efforts for this by showing sensitivity that due to the current crisis, the district administration has stopped all the construction activities, but if long-term measures are not thought of, then these construction works will restart again sooner or later. .
Therefore, it is necessary that long-term measures are taken to deal with this problem. We know that most of the rivers in the country originate from the Himalayan Mountains. Whereas glaciers are located on the top of the Himalayas, due to global warming in the world, glaciers are melting and because of this not only the sources of drinking water are depleting due to excess flow of water, but the water level of the sea is also increasing.
Declaration of eco sensitive zones
Various rivers originate under the glaciers. In the past there had been opposition to the obstruction of continuous flow of the Ganga by tampering with nature in the name of building dams on the river Ganga. After protests and agitations and fast unto death by many people including Prof. GD Agrawal, in the year 2010, the central government declared the area of Bhagirathi as eco-sensitive zone. The experience after that is that natural calamities have remained almost non-existent in that area. Similarly, parallel to Bhagirathi area, if Yamunotri, Alaknanda, Mandakini and Kali river &Dhauli Ganga areas are also declared eco-sensitive zones, then only it will be possible to prevent future disasters in this area . Since the Bhagirathi region had already been declared eco-sensitive region in the past, similar treatment should be given to the rest of the sensitive regions on similar lines, so that Himalayas, or in other words, country’s lifeline for thousands of years, can be saved. This is needed, not only to save the Himalayan region, but also to save about 60 crore people dependent on water flowing from rivers originating in Himalayan.
It has to be understood that present generation and the government has the responsibility of not only the protection of the Himalayan region, but also the future of all the people living on this land, who are dependent on the rivers coming out of this region. The present governments, both at centre and the state, will have to demonstrate utmost sensitivity, otherwise the future generations will never forgive us.
(The author is Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi)

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