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Army completes evacuation in Harsil

842 pilgrims were airlifted by the force from Badrinath sector and the IAF will continue its operations in the sector for two more days

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi 

Entering the last phase of relief operations in flood-hit Uttarakhand, the Indian Air Force on Saturday said it had completed the evacuation of stranded pilgrims in Harsil using 26 of its aircraft there.

Spokesperson Wg Cdr Gerard Galway said 842 pilgrims were airlifted from Badrinath sector and the force would continue its operations in the sector for two more days. Over 2,500 pilgrims were stranded in Harsil and Badrinath till Friday.

chief minister Vijay Bahugana had opposed the Centre in 2012 when it declared a riverfront area of Bhagirathi extending from Gangotri to Uttarkashi as eco-sensitive zones. The state government argued that such a step was going to dampen the development activities in the region.

The Ganga River Basin Authority had also declared areas, starting from Gomukh, where river Alakananda begins, as an eco sensitive zone. The previous Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state was also against the eco-sensitive zone plans.

Last month, Bahugana had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding the withdrawal of the notification. “We are planning to come up with our proposals on eco-sensitive zones soon. Whether the flood-affected region would be there or not is yet to be finalised, but the parks and sanctuaries in the state would be there in the list,” S S Sharma, chief wildlife warden, Uttarakhand, said on the phone. The state currently has six such areas under consideration.

The ministry of environment and forests is likely to ask the state government to review all its development plans, including about “600 small and large hydro electric power projects” in the eco-sensitive zones.

However, the mishap may well be an eye-opener for various states. According to the environment ministry, at least 16 states and Union territories are yet to submit their proposals for eco-sensitive zones. Till April, the ministry had received about 214 proposals, out of which only seven are declared sensitive zones.

Apart from Uttarakhand, the other states and Union territories which did not submit the proposals till April were Andaman and Nicobar, Chattisgarh, Chandigarh, Delhi, Goa, Lakshadeep, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Orissa, Pondicherry, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Environmentalists believe this may well be a wake-up call for other states, too.

The environment ministry had earlier questioned the state government on the need for so many small power projects that are below 2Mw on the Ganges. On the other hand, a study conducted on hydro-projects by the Wildlife Institute of India had warned the flow and water life in the entire Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basins may get affected because of the constructions on the riverfront and rising number of dams.

In 2010, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India had also stated more than 40 hydro projects in the region was a serious threat to nature and bio-diversity of the region.

First Published: Sat, June 29 2013. 22:11 IST