Havoc In The Himalaya
Environmentalists and social workers have for the last several years been criticizing the “development of the Himalaya through roads” strategy. The people of the region have seen with their own eyes the tragedies wrought by roads. The villagers of Berni hamlet in Tehri Garhwal, who are 10 km from the main roadhead, recently refused a project, saying “we can walk on foot for 50 kilometres but don’t want a road”.
Kumaon University geologist K.S. Valdiya calculates that the construction of one kilometre of road requires removal of 40,000 to 80,000 cubic metre of debris. There are 45,000 km of roads in the Himalayan areas. Dr. N.Patnaik reports that the Border Roads Organisation has been clearing debris at a annual rate of 724 cu m/km in the Jammu-Srinagar Highway, 411 cu m/km from the Tanakpur-Tawaghat road in Kumaon, and 691 cu m/km in Arunachal Pradesh. All this is in addition to debris already removed during the construction of the roads.
The debris which is thrown down the mountain slopes crushes small bushes and destroys grass and valuable herbs. Soil erosion increases above and below the roads. No river remains free from mud pollution. The Bhagirathi, as it flows past Tehri, takes on a chocolate colour from the soil it carries. In Rudra Prayag, the water of the Alaknanda becomes so dirty that even the animals refuse to drink it.
Along the roads, the regeneration of natural flora has ceased as “pioneer” species invade, plants such as the Lantana carnara at the lower altitudes and Rumes sp, and Eupotarum sp at higher altitudes. Appearance of “climax” vegetation like mixed oak forest is virtually ruled out due to biotic interference on the roadside areas.
The roads have also changed the socioeconomic and cultural’ scene of the Himalayan areas. As the free market system enters the self reliant and self sufficient social structure, major changes occur in the life support system of the hills.
That roads are synonymous with development is a longstanding and dangerous assumption. However, the construction of roads in the Himalaya cannot be completely ruled out. A new and scientific system should be developed so that after construction the wounded land can be revegetated. Highways should be built only where they are urgently needed, and only in geologically stable areas.
The writers are from Hill Campus in Ranichauri in Tehri Garhwal. This article is excerpted from the August issue of Himalaya: Man and Nature.
~By Vir Singh and A.K.Saxena
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