There is always a grey area between economy and ecology and this is because we end up choosing the economy at times for the sake of the growth and development of the country. We ignore the environmental consequences at that time and move on but experts believe that making decisions requires taking into account both the economy and the environment. For the welfare of both the present and future generations, a healthy balance must be struck between economic development and environmental preservation. While ecology ensures the protection of natural resources and the conservation of biodiversity, economic development can offer opportunities and resources for raising living standards. Finding a balance between the two can result in win-win situations.
The current crisis at Joshimath is a clear result of choosing economy over ecology. Joshimath, also known as Jyotirmath, is a city in the Chamoli district in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. It is located at a height of 1800 meters with a population of 23,000 people. It is famous for one of the four sacred peethas of Adi Guru Shri Shankaracharya, in addition to being the hub for skiing and trekking. For Hindu devotees, it is one of the main pilgrimage destinations and it is also close to the Indo-China border as well. However, this place is important for its tourism, pilgrimage, and military base. This town (again) is in the midst of a crisis when experienced an enormous landslide-like incidence leading to the development of various cracks in 723 houses. In October 2021, a few homes started to show signs of cracking, but the administration did not respond appropriately. 145 families have been temporarily evacuated to safer parts of the town after fresh construction fractures surfaced in January as a dispute about Joshimath’s future rages. It is claimed that the city come into existence only a hundred years ago. There was an earthquake nearby that caused a landslide and many rocks tumbled down and settle in this area. According to the Seismic Zonation Map of India, the Joshimath area falls in Zone 5 (the highest risk zone for earthquakes).
CAUSES OF CRISIS
Many experts and environmentalists published reports and studies to make the government aware of the crisis and also suggest some measures to tackle the situation but the government and policymakers recklessly ignore them by celebrating their so-called achievement of building hydroelectric projects, roads, and highways. The Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority (USDMA) published a report in September 2022 that mainly blamed the ill-planned construction in the town as an important reason behind the land sinking.
It is also worth noting that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said in a report that the town in Uttarakhand sank 5.4 cm between December 27, 2022, and January 8, 2023. However, the report and the satellite images were later withdrawn from the ISRO website. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has directed all departments and organizations associated with survey and data collection in Joshimath not to interact with the media or share any data on social media.
The problem of land subsistence in Joshimath has already been identified nearly 50 years ago from now. In 1976, MC Mishra was formed which identified the reasons behind this phenomenon. In their report, The Mishra Committee Report of 1976, they warned that the rocks should not be disturbed and that there should not be any digging and explosives in this area. But on the ground, these rules are flagrantly disregarded and the government didn’t listen to any of these warnings instead, in 2019, they said all hydro-power projects of more than 25 megawatts should be given faster clearances and be given the status of renewable projects.
Hydropower Projects and Roads
The Tapovan Vishnugad Hydro Power Project of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC): A geologist cautioned that Joshimath will be destroyed if a National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) project that is now under construction close by is not halted. The 520 MW run-of-river Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower Plant is being built in the Chamoli District of Uttarakhand, India, on the Dhauliganga River. Over 2.5 TWh of power should be produced by the facility yearly.
The Helong-Marwari Bye Pass, a 6 km long road that is now being built, is cited as the second cause. This is a portion of the 800 km long Char Dham Project, which P.M. Modi officially opened in 2016 and cost about Rs 20 billion. In reviewing the Char Dham Project, geologist Navin Joyal, a member of the High Power Committee appointed by the Supreme Court, stated that some members had suggested that the road not be built until a study is conducted, but that our suggestions had been completely disregarded and the road was allowed to be built.
SOLUTIONS AND SUGGESTIONS
The information above is just a snapshot of a much bigger problem. And as a result of this erroneous logic, current policies ultimately imperil the survival of the Himalayas. We must first acknowledge that the issue is serious in order to maintain a balance between ecology and economy. To do this, we must take environmentalists’ warnings seriously and learn from our neighbors China and Japan about how to take environmentally friendly actions without sacrificing the economy. We must comprehend one of the main issues with “uncontrolled development,” which overlooks numerous crucial variables and compensates the impacted families in the event of an accident. We have to change this mindset and realize that India needs to focus on some important measures like disaster-resistant infrastructure and sustainable development.
Striking the balance between the environment and development can be difficult because development frequently implies actions that could harm the environment, such as deforestation and pollution. Finding solutions to reduce the negative effects of development while promoting sustainable behaviors that safeguard natural resources for future generations is essential to achieving this balance. Instead of building multi-level projects, the focus here must be on smaller projects and sustainable development.
Author’s Name: Gungun Agrawal (Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai)