(GS3: Environment and Ecology)
Joshimath, the ancient Uttarakhand town has become a cause of concern. Though the town of Joshimath has been witnessing cracks emerging for the past two decades, things have escalated over a few days when the area was declared a disaster prone region
Reasons for Vulnerability of region:
- Joshimath is built on the deposits of an old landslide, which means the slopes can be destabilised even by slight triggers.
- The town is also in Zone V, denoting highest risk, in India’s seismic zonation scheme.
- It lies between two thrusts, the Main Central Thrust (MCT) and the Vaikrita Thrust (VT), and thus occupies a seismically active terrain.
Main Central Thrust (MCT) line:
- In simplest terms, the MCT is a crack or geological fault in Himalayas.
- It is formed due to the collusion of Indo-Australian plate and Eurasian plate.
- The area underneath the MCT is particularly very fragile due to frequent tectonic activities. And, therefore, seismic activities are very common in MCT areas.
- The MCT extends for over 2200 km across the Himalayas in northwest-southeast direction. Joshimath is located above the MCT.
Contributing factors for disasters in the region:
- Role of NTPC: Locals have blamed the NTPC’s 520-MW Tapovan Vishnugad hydropower project, under construction in the area, for exacerbating the Joshimath land subsidence.
- Char Dham project: The 6-km Helang-Marwari bypass, being built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), is also under scrutiny
- Inadequate drainage and wastewater disposal: The 2022 USDMA report pointed to a lack of drainage and wastewater disposal systems as being part of the subsidence problem.
- About 85% of buildings in the town, including those owned by the army aren’t connected to a sewerage system and have soak pits instead.
Why Himalayan region is susceptible to disasters?
The Hindu Kush Himalayan region is prone to numerous types of disasters because of its
- Steep terrain
- fragile geology
- intense and variable precipitation
- Common incidents of floods and landslides
- neo-tectonic mountain-building process, like earthquakes, landslides, floods, etc
- Overexploitation of the ecosystem(tourism, increased consumerism)
- Exploitative development projects: The indiscriminate exploitation of the fragile Himalayan region in the name of development projects has extracted a heavy price in terms of environmental damage.
- Fragmentation of natural resources: String of hydroelectric and road projects in the Himalayan States have already resulted in the fragmentation of natural systems.
Sustainable tourism in Himalayas: Recommendations
- Regulated tourism practice: There is need to establish regulated tourism practices with promotion of sustainable agendas for the Indian Himalayan region (IHR).
- Vigilance and patrolling: Protected areas require vigilance and regular patrolling to reduce unwanted wildlife-tourist interaction as well as habitat destruction due to off-road driving and encroachment.
- Early Warning System: It is important to have early warning and better weather forecast systems in order to forecast the disaster and alert the local population and tourists.
- Regional Cooperation: There is a need for a trans-boundary coalition of Himalayan countries to share and disseminate knowledge about the mountains and preservation of the ecology there.