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Clamour for sustainable development in J&K

We can’t afford haphazard development in the eco-fragile zones
12:00 AM Jun 10, 2024 IST | ARIF SHAFI WANI
clamour for sustainable development in j k

Development shouldn’t pave the way for destruction! But this holds true for eco-fragile Jammu and Kashmir which is confronted with a plethora of environmental issues mainly due to haphazard development.


Jammu and Kashmir is vulnerable to natural calamities like floods, earthquakes, landslides and avalanches. We have been witnessing severe changes in climatic patterns in J&K for the last several years. This winter was the warmest and driest in the peak period. Environmentalists mince no words to blame haphazard development in eco-fragile areas for triggering natural disasters in J&K.


We have to understand that we cannot afford to disturb nature. We have seen how increasing constructional activities and use of heavy machines along the Srinagar-Jammu Highway are triggering frequent landslides and even caving of road stretches.


Considered as Kashmir’s lifeline, the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, has remained closed for an alarming 223 days over the past five years due to frequent landslides, snow, and other obstructions, as per official data.


In 2023, the highway remained closed for 1458 hours, accumulating to a massive 61 days of closure. In 2022, the highway witnessed 989 hours (approximately 41 days) of road blockage. The highway is undergoing a massive widening project and tunnel constructions. And the frequent closures of the highway has been taking a heavy toll on Kashmir’s economy.


Experts have been calling for studies of geological joints along Srinagar-Jammu National Highway and measures like rock bolting and shotcreting to prevent percolating waters along fissures for preventing landslides. But such scientific measures are missing on the ground.


The Srinagar-Jammu National Highway frequently gets closed due to landslides, especially in Ramban district. Due to unique geo-climatic conditions, Doda and Ramban districts of Jammu are among the most eco-fragile areas in J&K.


The twin districts are prone to earthquakes, landslides and land sinking. Chenab Valley housing huge dams on Chenab including Dul Hasti in Kishtwar, Baglihar in Ramban, is also prone to natural disasters.

We have to understand that Himalayas are one of the most fragile ecosystems and need adequate safeguards against the onslaught to protect their fragility. However, in absence of proper Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) studies, work on various projects even in eco-fragile areas and tectonically active zones is going on.

Due to haphazard construction activities, vulnerability of the geologically young unstable and fragile rocks in Doda and Ramban has increased in the last several years. In the last several years, there have been increasing land sinking and subsidence incidents in Doda district destroying houses, roads, forests, public utilities and agricultural fields.

Notwithstanding a panel of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) after conducting studies had recommended banning civil construction in the land subsidence-hit areas in Doda district last year. The NGT’s directive was based on a report of a nine-member panel headed by Chief Secretary which gave a slew of recommendations to prevent land subsidence.

Government of India has made it mandatory to strictly implement the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) comprising mandatory disaster management plans, risk assessment and eco-fragility studies in development projects especially construction of highways, roads and tunnels within 100 km of the International Border (IB) or the Line of Control (LoC).

The SOPs have been formulated in the aftermath of Joshimath crisis in Uttarakhand where thousands of people were rendered homeless due to cracks in their houses following caving in of the foundations.

These SOP make it mandatory to prepare landslide management plans and take all remedial, precautionary measures before, during, and after construction. The SOPs mandate that all environmental safeguards must be implemented under the supervision of subject experts before undertaking construction of roads and tunnels. It states that in case of cutting or embankment, measures should be taken to control soil erosion from the embankment and prevent landslides, and rockfall.

It states that if the proposed route involves tunnelling and or horizontal directional drilling, a detailed study on tunnelling and locations of tunnelling with geological structural fraction and its possible impact on the existing structures in its vicinity, flora, fauna, terrain, should be carried out. This will ensure that there is no damage to life, property and environment in its vicinity.

It also mandates carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the water catchment, hydrology, and drainage pattern within 10 km of the alignment.

The SOPs restrict diversion of natural course of rivers, floods plains, creeks and drainage system or blocking of culverts. In case the road passes through a floodplain of a river, detailed assessment of micro drainage, flood passages and flood periodicity should be carried out and a management plan prepared and implemented.

However, many projects are going on in full swing in eco-fragile areas in blatant violation of environmental norms and SOPs in J&K.

We must read the writing on the wall. We have been facing natural disasters mainly triggered by haphazard development and these must be taken as indicators of impending disaster. We have to learn lessons from past natural disasters.

We must respect nature and go for sustainable development. Every place has its unique carrying capacity and no activity should be undertaken which will surpass it. We cannot compensate or afford any loss to forests, mountains and water bodies. We have to learn to live in harmony with nature like our ancestors!

Author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir