Uttrakhand flashflood: SC panel says Feb 7 disaster linked to hydel, Char Dham projects


Express News Service

DEHRADUN: Chairman of the Supreme Court-appointed High Powered Committee (HPC) to monitor Char Dham Pariyojana (CDP) in Uttarakhand has written to the apex court saying that deforestation, slope cutting, blasting, tunneling, damming of rivers, excessive tourism for hydroelectric projects (HEPs) and widening of around 900 km roads under the CDP responsible for the recent flashflood-like disasters.

The SC on Wednesday granted two weeks’ time to the Centre to submit a response in the matter. 

The HPC chairman Ravi Chopra said: “We have been saying that these hydroelectric projects should not be located in paraglacial zones. We had submitted a report recommending this in 2014 which was not followed. The Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) data also confirms the landslide-prone spots at almost every 3-3.5 km in the CDP.”

The CDP is an 889 km road widening project connecting four shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri. Worth around Rs 12,000 Crore, the CDP is said to be a dream project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Chopra added, “All we are saying that we would like our armed forces to reach safely and quickly to the border if the need arises. So, to draw attention to the serious flaws of the project, I wrote the letter.”

The letter by Chopra pointed out 161 “chronic landslide-prone locations and stretches” in 574 km of the CDP stating that “the cumulative impact of such activities on the nearby glaciers cannot be ignored.” 

Chopra also recalled a report submitted to the SC in April 2014 by an expert body (EB) highlighting the potential threat of paraglacial zones, valleys north of the Main Central Thrust (MCT) emphasizing them as disaster-prone areas. 

The EB, in its 2014 report, had recommended that hydroelectric projects should not be built in these valleys.

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Based on field visits, scientific publications, government reports, and eye-witness reports, the EB report provided evidence of irreversible damage to the  Himalayan ecology of the Ganga river system due to the construction of HEPs. The EB said this was the very reason behind the 2013 floods. “Had these concerns and recommendations been adopted, the massive loss of lives and property could have been avoided in the Rishi Ganga and Tapovan Vishnugad projects.” 

The 2014 report had also highlighted the flood-related concerns in all existing projects including shortcomings of Tehri Dam and recommendations were made by the EB to develop and install the flood warning mechanism. 

The letter says that 24 proposed projects in Uttarakhand which had not started on-ground construction work were stayed by the SC but no decision has yet been taken on under-construction or commissioned projects. 

“In view of the precious ecology and fragility of the region, the concerned authorities could have and should have taken a view on these projects. However, all the under-construction projects continued their construction unhindered. Now last Sunday’s tragic disaster has confirmed our fears and warnings,” said Chopra in the letter. 

“Now last Sunday’s tragic disaster has confirmed our fears and warnings. Hundreds of crores spent in the last 7 years for constructing these dangerous dams have ended up with the loss of over 200 persons, domestic animals, and destruction of national property.”

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