The National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Eco-system had recommended creation of spiritual and ecological buffer zones around pilgrim places in the ecologically-sensitive region.
It had suggested far-reaching measures, which could have lessened the extent of damage in the flood-ravaged Uttarakhand. Rampant construction were carried out at Kedarnath as tourist inflow boomed over the years.
From a mere 2.15 lakh in 2000, the number of Kedarnath pilgrims increased to 5.75 lakh last year. This heavy influx of pilgrims severely impacted the ecology.
The mission also noted that construction of roads should be prohibited beyond at least 10 kms from protected pilgrim sites, which could have reduced the number of casualties.
“These areas, like national parks and sanctuaries, will be maintained as special areas, where there would be minimal human interference, respecting the pristine nature of these sites,” the statement said.
Chipko movement founder Chandi Prasad Bhatt, also a member of the national mission, told Express that though eco-zone creation was an age-old recommendation, nothing had happened yet.
A brainchild of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, this is one of the nine missions to tackle climate change and is yet to take off.
The Uttarakhand floods had the making of both natural and manmade disaster.
“In this case, rampant construction on Mandakini River had strained the ecosystem. The river had to react at some point of time. Such things like cloud bursts, and glacier melting do happen in Himalayas, but it became a disaster as manmade activities lead to huge number of deaths,” the 80-year Gandhian environmentalist said. Bhatt, Ramon Magasasay Awardee and Padma Shri winner, recalled that similar floods had ravaged Uttarakhand in 1970 and in 1998 in Malapa.
“We asked the government for advanced system for giving warnings after which mapping was done. But it has not moved beyond a point.”