With at least 5,000 people feared dead in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand, the state government is planning to declare at least six eco-sensitive zones in the region. After fighting the idea for years, the Uttarakhand government has now confirmed that it would come up with a list of eco-sensitive zones, which may include the flood-ravaged area as well, within a month. The notification, however, would take time.
The state government argued that such a step was going to dampen the development activities in the region. The National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) had also declared areas, starting from Gomukh where river Alakananda begins, as an eco sensitive zone. Earlier, the BJP regime in the state was also against the eco-sensitive zone plans.
Last month, Bahugana had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding a withdrawal of this 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 finalized, but the national parks and sanctuaries in the state would be there in the list,” said S S Sharma, chief wildlife warden, Uttarakhand. The state currently has six such areas under consideration.
The Ministry of Environment & 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 Uttarakhand mishap may well be an eye-opener for various states across the country. 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 that this may well be a wake-up call for other states too.
MoEF had earlier questioned the state government on the need for so many small power projects that are below 2 mega watt on the Ganges. On the other hand, a study conducted on Uttarakhand 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, a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had had also stated that more than 40 hydro projects in the region was a serious threat to nature and bio-diversity of the region.