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Uttarakhand disaster is man-made: Anil Joshi, Environmentalist

Jul 01, 2013

Environmentalist and founder of Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization (HESCO), Dehradun, Anil Joshi explains how human activities have disturbed the fragile Himalayan ecosystem.

Anil P Joshi

Calamities and pilgrim hotspots seem to be inextricably linked. The north Indian state of Uttarakhand is struggling to step out of the worst-ever disaster that has hit the mountainous region with the ‘Himalayan Tsunami’ having left hundreds dead and thousands missing.

While the state administration has termed it as a natural calamity, environmentalist and founder of Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization (HESCO), Dehradun, Padamshree, Anil P Joshi opines that this was a man-made disaster waiting to happen.

In an interview with One World South Asia’s Rakesh Sood, Joshi warns that worse tragedies may strike the region again unless the rampant violation of the Himalayan state's sensitive ecology is checked. Excerpts from the interview.

OneWorld South Asia: How do you react to the worst-ever natural disaster that has hit Uttarakhand recently?

Anil P Joshi: Increasing human activities such as hydro-power projects, roads, hotels and dharmshalas in the name of development has disturbed fragile ecosystem and has snapped the spirit of life in the Himalayan region causing calamities.

This kind of development is nothing less than vandalism. During the last seven years, the region has witnessed three major flash-floods as against one in 27 years before the year 2005. The industrial and commercial development has caused irreversible damage to the natural equilibrium.

The approach to look at the national development needs through the prism of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has to be changed. It is high time we should now adopt Gross Environment Product (GEP) instead of GDP as developmental index.

OWSA: Can you elaborate on the concept of Gross Environment Product?

Joshi: It must be understood that the entire Himalayan watershed is an eco-sensitive zone, and deforestation in this zone has led to landslides and floods.

The presence of multiplicity of dams, tunnels, roads and townships along with religious tourism has gone beyond the carrying capacity of the Himalayan watershed.

Developmental strategy must include the environmental promotion approach. Appropriate legislative intervention "to formulate a National policy on the matter” and “firm executive action in accordance with the letter and spirit of this policy” is required to ensure a mechanism for ensuring compliance with GEP index.

Also, watershed should be kept as unit of development. A long- term strategy should be developed and developmental projects in the hills must be reviewed and revisited and their carrying capacity and cumulative impact on the Himalayan ecosystem should be studied.

Indiscriminate urbanisation, industrialisation and tourism must restore the ecological integrity of the Himalayan watershed and comprehend its geological reality to prevent such occurrences in future.

Doubts on development based on urban model are being raised. Damage to environment as a result of development should be accounted for.  Environment protection should be on the top of the development scale.

OWSA: What in your opinion could be the possible ways to minimise damage to Himalayan region in the face natural disasters?

Joshi: This is not the first time floods or landslides have hit the Himalayan state. Why doesn't the government learn its lesson?

There is definitely a lack of coordination about the disaster management strategy at local level. One of the major limitations of the mountain areas is its fragility.

The floods are man-made, and avoidable. This requires meticulous and safe planning to tackle the natural calamities. A long- term strategy should be evolved for the conservation of catchments of Himalayan rivers. There is an urgent need of forming a ‘National Board for Himalayan Conservation and Development’ for integrated development of Himalayas.

Similarly, rehabilitation policy for disaster management and promotion of disaster safe technologies through self-loans, tax benefits and subsidies should be introduced.

A proper land use policy should also be framed in order to regulate construction activities in the floodplains of the rivers.

OWSA: What kind of strategy is required for integrated development of the region?

Joshi: There should be proper representation of ‘Van Panchayats’ on the National Board for Himalyan Conservation and Development and for the running of the programmes on the cultivation of medicinal plants and employment generation programmes.

The Panchayats have to be empowered for all development activities implementations. Integrated approach for land water management can only bring Himalayan sustainability.

Application of remote sensing technology for the development of holistic data base for agriculture, water, forests, pastures, landscapes and other natural resources for the sustainable management of Himalayas should be in place.

JC JOSHI says:
Jul 19, 2013 07:40 PM

JOSHIJI, LET US UNITE TO MAKE UTTARAKHAND LOOK LIKE SWITZERLAND OF THE EAST.We have prepared a strategic action plan to integrate the hill economy with the mainstream of the national life.If interested we can EMAIL THAT .For this purpose we need your EMAIL IS please, kindly oblize.

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