Uttarakhand Glacier Burst, a Pre-Indication for Similar Disasters in JK?

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 Photo credits: Indian Express

Put a moratorium on hydropower projects , explore solar power  

NANDA Devi glacier which recently broke in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district is seen as an outcome of the insensitivity of the Government in executing the developmental projects particularly construction of hydropower projects. Experts say that authorities have been executing numerous projects one after the other without properly assessing the impact of these projects on the local environment ,particularly the mountain ecosystem. A study published in the journal Science Advances in June 2019, shows that glaciers have been losing the equivalent of more than a vertical foot and half of the ice each year since 2000 – double the amount of melting that took place from 1975 to 2000. Researchers at Columbia University in the US say that the data indicates that the melting is consistent in time and space, and that rising temperatures are to blame.

Temperatures vary from place to place, but from 2000 to 2016 they have averaged one degree Celsius higher than those from 1975 to 2000, they said. Researchers analyzed repeat satellite images of some 650 glaciers spanning 2,000 kilometers from west to east.

Any area has an eco-sensitiveness and we are exploiting its limit. This disaster was a triggered one. I believe that the current government hasn’t been showing enough sensitivity towards nature. The environmentalists, who have been voicing their concerns to the government against such large projects, have never been taken seriously”, said Anand Arya noted environmentalist while talking to a national news channel a few days back.

Arya who is former Chairman of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) Committee on earthquake engineering further said that another reason behind such tragedy is not following environmental assessment properly. Another noted environmental expert Anil Joshi also raised an important issue on relying upon large dams to fulfill the upcoming needs. According to him, there are other means to live. He said in his TV interview that the Government is relying upon hydropower more than any other form of energy because of its cost efficiency and reliability. “But we are missing out to evaluate the risk factor involved in the construction of dams this size”, he added.

Ujh hydropower project 

Recently, an expert committee in the Ministry of environment, forests, and climate change gave clearance for the Ujh hydroelectric project in Kathua district of J&K. More than 2.14 lakh trees in this ecologically fragile area would be axed in the coming months. The project would be set up on the river Ujh which is one of the tributaries of the Ravi river that flows from Punjab and then enters Pakistan. Ujh is not only a hydropower project but it is considered to be a multipurpose project that would be used for irrigation and supplying drinking water to people as well. More than 4300 hectares of land would be required for the proposed project out of which almost 3500 hectares land will get submerged. In addition to the Government land which is around 300 hectares or more, around 700 hectares of forest land and approximately 2500 hectares of private land will also be acquired by the Government for this project.  Ujh has already been declared as a national project more than 12 years back. The project is said to have 186 megawatts capacity. In the recent past, thousands of forest trees were axed during the execution of 440 KV Double Circuit Samba Amargrah transmission line. Only last month, more than 200 trees were axed around Sonmarg area during construction of the tunnel. For the Srinagar Ring Road project thousands of apple and plus trees will be cut down. In return farmers are paid compensation which was offered back in 1995. This is complete injustice.

Environment and SDGs 

Economic growth, environmental protection, and social inclusion are three core elements of sustainable development. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set up by the United Nations in 2015 are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030. Through SDGs, nations are likely going to address challenges that include poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace, and justice.  Climate change and environmental degradation are the important aspects of SDG. Environmental Sustainability can only be achieved when we ensure environmental conservation, investment in renewable energy, saving water, supporting sustainable mobility, and innovation in sustainable construction and architecture. According to the national review report on the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) in India, the opening statement of which begins with  Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which is an ancient Vedic phrase whose literal meaning is “the world is one family”. The opening statement read as:

“The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are thus part and parcel of the country’s long standing tradition and heritage. Indeed, the goals substantially reflect the development agenda of India”.

Doodh Ganga Glacier at Navkan Pir Panjaal area, Photo credits Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

During his speech at the UN -SDG summit, PM Modi had said,

Much of India’s development agenda is mirrored in the Sustainable Development Goals. Our national plans are ambitious and purposeful; Sustainable development of one-sixth of humanity will be of great consequence to the world and our beautiful planet.”

In a place like Jammu & Kashmir where there is already a scarcity of land, how can the Government allow the construction of big dams for hydropower projects which will prove to be a great threat to our ecology and environment. In addition, such mega-projects involve cutting down thousands of trees. These arbitrary decisions not only violate many laws themselves but this goes completely against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as the policy adopted by Government, is completely unnatural and unsustainable.

SC appointed committee report  

A technical panel appointed by the Supreme Court in its report has estimated the value of a tree at 74,500 rupees multiplied by its age. This monetary valuation of the tree was made by a panel of experts which submitted its report to the apex court recently. The report will help frame the guidelines on the estimation and valuation of trees that are axed during land acquisition processes. As more than 2 lakh trees are to be axed during Ujh hydropower project, will the Government be able to provide adequate compensation to people or the forest department as the valuation of trees has been enhanced a lot?

Earlier the estimation would be done on the basis of wood, fruits, and life span of trees but the expert panel has now included oxygen as one of the major components of a tree.

A panel of experts told the Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, that trees serve the society as well as the environment and its valuation can be reached on various counts including oxygen, micro-nutrients, compost, and bio-fertilizer.  The reference was made vis a vis heritage trees but this can be attributed to smaller trees as well with a lifespan of even  40 to 50 years.

Conclusion   

If the Government believes in the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or sabka saath sabka vikas why are people of Jammu & Kashmir being pushed to the wall? The Government’s arbitrary decisions will destroy this beautiful place in the coming years. If things continue like this, by 2030, instead of achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs)  in Jammu & Kashmir, people in this part of the world will be pushed into a never-ending environmental disaster. PM must fulfill the promise he made during the SDG summit 2015 wherein he assured the United Nations to work on sustainable development and to ensure there is no environmental disaster in the name of development.   The Govt of J&K & central Government in particular needs to learn a lesson from the Uttarakhand glacier burst and put a moratorium on  the mega hydropower projects in J&K. Let solar energy be explored instead by setting up community solar power stations in towns and villages across Jammu & Kashmir


Views expressed are author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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