Environment Minister decries politicisation of issue at a time of crisis

With Uttarakhand struggling to cope with one of the worst ecological disasters in recent memory, Union Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan on Thursday said that an ‘eco-sensitive zone plan’ was in place in the State and that the authorities must not compromise on the ‘fragile ecology’ of the region.

“As Minister for Environment, I feel that it is an ‘ecologically fragile zone’ and that the eco-sensitive zone proposal needs to remain in place,” Ms. Natarajan told reporters here.

Ms. Natarajan said the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had in 2011 recommended that a 130-km stretch from Gomukh to Uttarkashi be declared an eco-sensitive zone. “The proposal was accepted and a draft notification was put in place in 2011, which was later finalised in December, 2012, and is still in force.”

Mr. Bahuguna, belonging to Ms. Natarajan’s party, however, is opposed to the proposal for he believes the move would rob the local people of much-needed infrastructure development and deal a blow to the State’s tourism industry.While environmental activists maintain that the flood was a man-made disaster waiting to happen, the State has tried to brand the incident as a natural calamity. Mr. Bahuguna has sought to describe the flash floods as an “unprecedented” event caused by a “Himalayan tsunami.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party too had backed Mr. Bahuguna’s opinion on the issue — the then BJP Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ had written to the Environment Minister, expressing his opposition to any such move.

“The Uttarakhand Assembly had earlier passed a resolution opposing the move to notify the Gangotri-Uttarkashi stretch as an eco-sensitive zone. The BJP Chief Minister before him also held the same point of view. They believe that the region’s development will be affected by this proposal,” said Ms. Natarajan.

However, the first priority right now was to ensure relief and rehabilitation for the afflicted, said Ms. Natarajan, decrying the politicisation of the issue at a time of crisis.

“In a democracy, we have to discuss things… but I believe this is not the time to bring those issues to the fore. As of now, all of us must join hands to ensure that all the stricken people are safe,” Ms. Natarajan said.