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Delhi Warns Us Again

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By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

The National Green Tribunal came down heavily on our state when it learnt about our proposals to install a Cable Car from Dehra to Mussoorie. It also disagreed with our plan to dig a tunnel under Mussoorie. It termed both schemes as ‘dangerous’.  Now a Central Legislative body has added its powerful voice to the judicial one.

According to a news item, ‘’The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science, Technology and Environment said that such regions require a more meticulous approach with the only aim of furthering the environmental interests rather than economic interest”. The panel headed by Congress Rajya Sabha  member and former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, in its report scrutinising Demands  for Grants (2023 – 24) of the Ministry of Environment, also highlighted the ‘tremendous increase of tourist activities” in the ecologically sensitive areas which, it said, has put the natural resources under pressure. This has led to over-exploitation of natural resources and illegal constructions. In view of the imminent threat to ecological balance caused by these activities it is pertinent that a thorough assessment of illegal structures be undertaken in coordination with local authorities and strict action initiated at the earliest against such illegal constructions, lest it results in a man-made crisis of huge proportions.”

The appropriate authority to take such corrective steps is the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Sadly, it seems to be deliberately dragging its feet. Significantly, the Jairam Ramesh Committee’s report goes on to say that of the 5,500 complaints received by that Ministry in 21-22 only 100 were acted upon. Nothing more needs to be said!

However, in apparent disregard of the fears of the NFT and the Parliamentary Committee, our State Cabinet has, according to another press report, approved capital subsidy of up to 50% of the eligible capital assets. Not a word has been mentioned about environmental concerns. Is this an echo of the attitude that led to the Joshimath disaster of placing immediate greed above long-term civic need?  We do not agree with the Tourism Minister’s quoted remark that these proposals were a major step in developing tourism in this state. Without environmental safeguards we are likely to see terrible clones of the Joshimath tragedy all across our Himalayan state.

But, Mr Satpal Mahraj, you are uniquely placed to make a major change in the environmental and ecological image of our Uttarakhand. Your bouquet of responsibilities can change the disaster-prone reputation of Uttarakhand. Here is how it can be done.

Stop your PWD babus from using earthmovers to handle landslides. Get a copy of the ISRO Publication The Landslide Atlas of India. Landslides are caused by excess water being held in the soil of our fragile hill slopes. One litre of water weighs one kilogram. Get your PWD engineers to build drainage ditches to draw off the excess water. We have seen such ditches in Malaysia’s Genting Highlands. Then ask the FRI to recommend a fast spreading ground cover, followed by a soil binder then by hardy Himalayan trees. We suggest khat meet, followed by mansoor to be succeeded by banj, but the experts of the FRI might know better.

Next, your Cultural Portfolio should empower you to collect and publish an Annual Concordance of the Festivals of Uttarakhand expressed in the dates of the International Calendar. This will allow would-be visitors to adjust their itineraries to take in festivals during their visits to Uttarakhand. This will spread the income generated by tourism equitably besides giving free publicity to our unique cultural traditions and folkways and food.

There is also a growing hunger, globally, for knowledge of the principles and practices of religions. We do not refer to religious conversions but only knowledge of the principles and practices. For instance, how does Zen Buddhism differ from the Tibetan Vajrayana. What are the beliefs about Christ spending His formative years in India? What modern scientific beliefs were pre-empted by the Hindu Itihas traditions? You should consider opening high-priced Himalayan Retreat Centres in our Ghost Villages for knowledge seekers from across the globe and call them Vishwa Guru Ashrams. The emphasis should be on the eclectic similarities of faith which is the unique ethos of diverse India.

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)