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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 48 November 25, 2023

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Nov 25, 2023

Saturday 25 November 2023


Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, November 25, 2023

A highway tunnel being built through the mountains in the Char Dham Hindu pilgrimage zone caved in on November 12, 2023, trapping 41 workers on the Brahmakhal-Yamunotri national highway, in the mountain state of Uttarakhand. Ever since an expensive rescue operation has been underway involving multiple agencies, specialist firms, and the Indian military whose heavy aircraft have repeatedly been used to fly in tons of equipment. This has created a made-for-TV 24-hour spectacle that the BJP government is using to its advantage by showing citizens how much it cares for the labouring class, the poor, and Hindu pilgrims for whom this highway segment is being built. The big media that shapes public opinion isn’t asking the big questions that need to be posed. What will it take to stop major road building & construction projects in ecologically sensitive areas of the Himalayas? There have been repeated man-made accidents and crises triggered by violations of safety norms and advice ignored not to weaken environmental safeguards and to curb heavy construction in certain zones. There have been multiple warnings by experts, including by the much respected Supreme Court appointed high powered committee on the Char Dham all-weather highway. The accident in Silkyara must be thoroughly investigated since the construction company has gravely flouted construction norms by not building a parallel safety channel for evacuation in the wake of any accident in the main tunnel area during construction. Bringing to book the rogue construction firm is important since there is a powerful builder’s lobby across different states of India with many who are unscrupulous. The country is paying a very heavy price for ill-advised development projects in ecologically sensitive Himalayas that extend all the way from Kashmir to the North East of India. Readers will remember that not long ago on October 4, 2023, there was a very dramatic situation in the North eastern state of Sikkim where a glacial lake burst led to the Sikkim Urja Limited’s 1,200-megawatt hydroelectric project Teesta-III at the Chungthang dam on river Teesta gave way causing much destruction all the way up to West Bengal. The time has come for the Government planners and powers that be across all political parties to pay heed to the alarm bells long sounded by environmentalists over the construction of hydropower projects & road building in the geologically fragile Himalayas.

November 25, 2023 —HK

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