Recently, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has approved the Zonal Master Plan for the Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone to pave the way for faster execution of Char Dham Road Project.
In 2012, the MoEF&CC issued a gazette notification declaring the watershed area along the stretch of river Bhagirathi, covering 4,179.59 sq km from Gaumukh to Uttarkashi, an Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ). ESZs are the ecologically important areas designated to be protected from industrial pollution and unregulated development under the Environment Protection Act of 1986.
The 2012 notification was issued keeping in view the requirements of the local people without affecting their rights and privileges and also ensuring eco-friendly development for their livelihood security. It sought to protect the entire fragile Himalayan region by restricting hydropower projects of over 2 MW, riverbed mining and change of land use.
However, it was amended in 2018 following Uttarakhand government’s objection that the notification was ‘anti-development.’ The 2018 amendment approved land use change to meet the local needs including civic amenities and other infrastructure development in larger public interest and national security with the prior approval of State Government with due study of environmental impacts. It also allowed cutting of hills in eco-sensitive areas with proper study and construction on steep slopes in exceptional cases for the benefit of the community.
Zonal Master Plan (ZMP):
- The Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone notification mandates the State Government of Uttarakhand to prepare ZMP to be implemented under the supervision of the Monitoring Committee.
- The ZMP is based on watershed approach and includes governance in the area of forest and wildlife, watershed management, irrigation, energy, tourism, public health and sanitation, road infrastructure, etc.
- Watershed development approach is based on participatory planning following a bottom-up approach for developing a context appropriate plan for execution, strengthening of local level institution, conservation and appropriate management of watershed’s natural resources.
- Watershed is a geo-hydrological unit draining into a common point by a system of drains.
- The approval of ZMP is expected to give a boost to conservation and ecology of the area and also to undertake developmental activities as permitted under ZMP.
Char Dham Road Project:
The Char Dham project proposes to provide all-weather connectivity to Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath, and has 53 projects of 826 km length, involving an investment of Rs. 12,000 crore. Bhagirathi is the source stream of Ganga. It emanates from Gangotri glacier at Gaumukh at an elevation of 3,892 m.
- In a report prepared after the Kedarnath disaster (2015), the Geological Survey of India stated that road construction in mountains reactivates landslides as it disturbs the ‘toe of the natural slope of the hill’.
- The Himalayas is the region where Indian tectonic plate goes under the Eurasian tectonic plate.
- Himalayas are in seismic zone V, thus a major earthquake can happen anytime.