Himalayan Region Current Affairs - 2020

Zonal Master Plan of Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone approved

On July 17, 2020, Union Environment Minister Shri Prakash Javadekar informed that the Zonal Master Plan of Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone has been approved.

Highlights

The announcement was made by the minister during a review meeting of “Chaardhaam Road Project” in the state of Uttarakhand. The plan was prepared by the Government of Uttarakhand and was appraised by the Ministry of Jal Shakti.

Background

The Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone notification was issued by the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in 2012. The notification was then amended in 2018.

What is the issue?

There were years of protests by the local environmentalists to protect the Himalayan region by restricting hydropower projects of 2 MW, change of land use and riverbed mining.

Zonal Master Plan

The Plan is based on the watershed approach. It includes governance in the area of wildlife, forest, irrigation, energy, public, road infrastructure and public health and sanitation.

Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone

The zone is located in the upper Himalayas. It is an interdependent fragile Ganga-Himalayan basin. The area falls under the Higher Himalayas and Garhwal lesser Himalayas.

Concerns

The master plan approval might make the Bhagirathi region highly vulnerable to natural disasters. The environmentalists protest putting forth the 2015 Kedarnath tragedy.

In 2015, there was sudden and rapid melting of ice and snow on the Kedarnath mountain. This flooded the Chorabari lake and then the Kedarnath temple as well.

Also, when there is forest loss, debris would flow into the river. This will affect river and also will make the region extremely vulnerable to landslides. Beyond height of 1,800-2,000 metres, the land forms into moraine. Hence, when there is a cloud burst, they might add to landslides.

The Himalayas are in seismic Zone-V. Thus, major earth quake might occur anytime.

How is Eco-Sensitive Zone declared?

The Eco-Sensitive Zones are declared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. The Environment Protection Act, 1986 does not mention the word “Eco-Sensitive Zone”. However, it says that the Central Government can restrict areas where industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out.

The Zone is declared based on following criteria

  • Species based: rarity, endemism, etc.
  • Ecosystem based: Frontier forest, sacred groves, etc
  • Geomorphologic feature based: Origins of rivers, uninhabited islands, etc.

The criteria are listed in the guidelines framed by a committee appointed by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

Char Dham Road Project

The project aims to provide all weather connectivity to Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath.

Sikkim Glaciers are being lost at faster rate than other parts of Himalayan parts

The Scientists of Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun conducted a study and have found that glaciers in Sikkim region are melting at faster rates as compared to other Himalayan regions.

Key Findings

The study has assessed around 23 glaciers and their spread since 1991 to 2015. The larger glaciers are thinning in size and smaller glaciers are retreating. During these years, major shift in behavior was noted since 2000. Since 2000, the western and central Himalayan glaciers have sowed reduced melting. Whereas in case of Sikkim Glaciers, the melting rate has increased. Summer temperature increase is the main reason for glacier changes.

Study-First of its Kind

This study is the first in India to study about multiple parameters of glaciers namely length, Debris cover, area, glacial lakes, snow line altitude.

Wadia Institute of Himalayan Technology

The Institute operates under Department of Science and Technology. It was established in 1968. The institute provides advisory and consultancy services to various organizations. It also gives advises on geotechnical feasibility of hydel projects, their foundation and site selection.