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.
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.
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.
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.