Pointing out that Himalayas were earthquake-prone due to its several thrusts and faults, Prof. K.S. Valdiya, said: “Any further destruction in this highly eco-sensitive zone could lead to major catastrophe. As the entire hilly area of the state — from Kali river to Tons river — falls in seismically active zone and has weak mountains, any kind of major mining, construction and blasting activity would further weaken these hills. In times of any natural disaster like earthquake, cloudburst and landslips, we will see massive destruction.” He was addressing a seminar on “Challenges to save Uttarakhand” here.
Prof. Valdiya said he had been warning against impending danger of unplanned construction and development works since 1985 when he had carried out a vast survey of the entire area and found that there were hundreds of faults and thrusts in upper Himalayas that could cause natural calamity. Prof. Valdiya said he was not against construction of roads as they were lifeline of the region, but warned against carrying of road construction by blatantly blasting hills and on areas near river beds.
South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People’s coordinator Himanshu Thakkar said massive deforestation, violation of all construction norms in hydropower projects and complete absence of disaster management plans led to the massive scale of destruction in the Himalayas. “What Uttarakhand faced last month, other States like Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and the north-east might have to go through similar tragedy due to lack of proper planning and unmindful construction activities in this highly fragile zone,” he added.
Criticising the Centre and the Uttarakhand government for having ignored warnings of environmentalists, Mr. Thakkar said all false claims were made while promoting the run-of-the-river hydropower projects that no major construction activity was required for the same. “But the fact was that apart from creating reservoirs, blasting of hills is done to create huge canals, thus disturbing the entire ecology of the area. With 336 total operational and planned hydropower projects in Uttarakhand, one can imagine the kind of damage is being done to the Himalayas,” he warned.
According to social activist and journalist Shekhar Pathak: “The challenge now is reconstruction and rehabilitation … The government now need to focus on planned and restricted construction keeping in mind the needs of local people.” Calling for controlled access of people to places of pilgrimage and tourism, particularly those in sensitive zones, he blamed mad rush of tourists for putting fragile ecology of the region in danger.