14 Jul 2013

Calamity in Uttarakhand : Man-made or Natural?

Environmentalists describe the death and damages as a man-made disaster while geologists say the extent of destruction could have been far lesser if stricter regulations were in place and authorities were equipped to deal with the situation. Importantly, the events focus attention on the debate on the December 18, 2012 notification of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which declares the entire watershed around the 135-km stretch between Gaumukh and Uttarakashi along Bhagirathi as an eco-sensitive zone under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.In practice banning all construction activities in this area, and how the State government has been opposing it stoutly, arguing that such an order will adversely affect all development activities and economic progress of the region.


The notification, if implemented, would result in the closure of hydropower projects of 1,743-MW along the Bhagirathi and a ban on mining and construction, especially hotels and resorts, and land use conversion. Power projects and mining and construction activities are the main preventable causes of environmental degradation. While natural calamities such as cloud bursts and flash floods could not be prevented, but deaths and damage could be contained if there were laws to regulate construction along rivers, and authorities were prepared to deal with the situation.

Expansion of hydel projects, roads and tourism is making the Himalaya in Uttarakhand crumble. The under-construction hydropower project at Srinagar along the Alaknanda ,Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, two hill states in the Himalayan range, are so far the worst hit by the extreme rains that struck northern India in the wake of monsoons that set in early this year. As of 29 June 2013, the official death toll in Uttarakhand, based on the collected bodies of the victims, had crossed 850 and 365 houses destroyed, 275 houses partially damaged. Heavy rainfall has wreaked havoc on the region because of the fragile nature of the Himalayan range and poor soil stability in its steep slopes. But it is man-made factors that have compounded the scale of the disaster. Unabated expansion of hydro-power projects and construction of roads to accommodate ever-increasing tourism, especially religious tourism, are also major causes for the unprecedented scale of devastation. The valleys of the Yamuna, the Ganga and the Alaknanda witness heavy traffic of tourists. And now for this, the government has to construct new roads and widen the existing ones; before going for this, a study should be conducted to assess the carrying capacity of the Himalaya and development should be planned accordingly.


Major effects of uncontrolled construction in Eco-sensitive Zone:

Roads destabilizing mountains:
A new (mountain) range like the Himalaya will remain steady if not tampered much. But the huge expansion of roads and transport is bringing the mountains in Uttarakhand down. It is a major destabilizing factor for a mountain and it is a new phenomenon for the Himalaya. Data with the Uttarakhand State Transport Department confirms this. In 2005-06, 83,000-odd vehicles were registered in the state. The figure rose to nearly 180,000 in 2012-13. Out of this, proportion of cars, jeeps and taxis, which are the most preferred means of transport for tourists landing in the state, increased the most. In 2005-06, 4,000 such vehicles were registered, which jumped to 40,000 in 2012-13. It is an established fact that there is a straight co-relation between tourism increase and higher incidence of landslides.

 Threat from dams:
The Ganga in the upper reaches has been an engineer’s playground. The Central Electricity Authority and the Uttarakhand power department have estimated the river’s hydroelectric potential at some 9,000 MW and have planned 70-odd projects on its tributaries. Rampant construction, be it of roads, or dams, has led to land use change and the cumulative effect is getting reflected in the extent of damage rains have caused.

 Landslides more frequent now:
Our mountains were never so fragile. But these heavy machines plying everyday on the kutcha roads have weakened it, and now we suffer landslides more often. Mountains are cut to make roads has rendered the mountains unstable. Road contractors, who come from outside, do not understand the mountains. Most of the expressways that are being constructed now are tangled in legal cases.

 Studies conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Kunming and the University of Delhi on the impact of the dams planned in the Himalayan region predicted that “about 1,700 square kilometers of forests would be submerged or damaged by dams and related activities” “Stage-managed and faulty environmental clearances in India and China contributed to the colossal crisis that is staring us in the face”.

  • Such things will keep happening in future, and people living in ecologically sensitive areas also have needs which are needed to be fulfilled, but there needs should have enough restrictions on the activities, including the movement of pilgrims and tourists.
  • While there could not be a blanket ban on development activities in these fragile zones, given the needs of the people, we need to look at ways of development without destroying natural resources.
  • No agency should be allowed to build permanent structures in ecologically fragile zones.
  • Development fundamentalism, combined with religious tourism, is eroding ecological heritage.
  • In the aftermath of these disasters, if lessons are indeed learnt, all ongoing development projects must be reviewed, and their carrying-capacity and cumulative impact on the Himalayan ecosystem should be assessed and the ecological integrity of the Himalayan watershed made non-negotiable.

  • Indian-Air-Force-IAF
What do you think about Calamity in Uttarakhand : Man-made or Natural?Please justify.

According to you, what are the major causes of these types of disasters?

What should be done to prevent it and minimize the losses or ill-effects by the government and the local people too?

Please give your opinions in comments….

(Written by co-host Gaju Navande of the event Group Discussion for UPSC CSE (Daily 9PM to 11PM) of the group Mission Mussoorie UPSC Civil Services based up on daily discussions. Please join and give your valuable views).



  1. Further to the devastation in uttarakhand,
    The need to wakeup and have to conduct a survey over uttarakhand mountains. have to briefly analyse the watershed constructed between gaumuch and uttarkashi along river bagirathi. Have to assess that how much runoff of land occuring with the rainfall. Have to priratize the micro watersheds based on morphometric, scs-cn, syi index therefore the assesement of prority will define the high, and medium, low sensitive zone. And based on the data of prepared survey the goi can reveiw the present construction areas and can order them to shift the exixting construction from high sensitive zone to low sensitive zone.


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