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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 3, January 7, 2023

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Jan 7, 2023

Saturday 7 January 2023

Letter to the Readers Mainstream, 7 Jan 2023

In the past days the media has reported on a crisis situation in the mountain town of Joshimath in the Chamoli district in Uttarakhand state in the North of India. Shifting and sinking of ground beneath the surface has caused considerable damage, hundreds of homes, public buildings, temples and roads have become danger prone having developed major cracks and fissures in walls, roofs and in the ground. There have been protests from the affected residents many of whom have had to leave their damaged homes and stay outside in biting cold. The administration has responded to the crisis by offering temporary accommodation in relief camps and or provide some financial support and has temporarily halted all construction activity in the vicinity. The Garhwal Himalayan region has already seen a series of climatic and natural disasters in the recent years and this is the latest such disaster in the making. Mountain ecologists and local observers see a direct connection between land subsidence in Joshimath with the ongoing construction of tunnels for Tapovan Vishnugad Hydroelectric Project of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and the construction of Helang bypass under Joshimath. Ever since 1976, umpteen official committees consisting of geologists, hydrologists, seismologists and mountain ecologists have repeatedly called for a halt to tunnelling and dam building on the mountain river and to stop expanded road building and untamed construction on the mountains but to no avail. The currently powerful local elites consist of a builders and a tourism lobby with big clout and connections with the central government in Delhi who can’t be made to change plans. Will the recently elected Chief Minister Dhami of Uttarakhand have the political courage to permanently stop the construction jaggernaut in the area including the high profile char-dham highway project running through the fragile Himalayas? If this mania to rip open the mountains of the area can’t be curbed then a major ecological disaster stares us in the face.

Jan 7, 2023 - HK

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