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Avalanche or glacial lake burst in Chamoli? Scientists, conservationists lash out at government

Views are still divided as to what caused this disaster. The experts have pinned down on two causes- an avalanche or a glacial lake burst.  

Published: 07th February 2021 10:17 PM  |   Last Updated: 07th February 2021 10:33 PM   |  A+A-

Rescue operations underway after a glacier broke off in Joshimath causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.

Rescue operations underway after a glacier broke off in Joshimath causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. (Photo | PTI)

Express News Service

DEHRADUN: Scientists, experts, conservationists and activists have pointed out the lacklustre attitude of the governments when it comes to maintaining balance in development activities and environment. 

Ajay Gautam, a Delhi-based activist who has filed range of public interest litigations in Uttarakhand high court requesting strengthening of disaster management systems said, "I had filed one PIL in year 2014 requesting the honorable court to order installation of warning systems including alarm systems.

"The court had ordered the same in year 2018 but no compliance was done by the state government. This is apathy on the part of government which prefers concretization and deforestation of the hills which invites such disasters."

Ravi Chopra, chairman of Supreme Court appointed high powered committee (HPC) on the 900 kms Char Dham Pariyojana, commenting on the issue, said, "In the year 2014 we had submitted a report warning about hydropower projects at altitude of over 2000 meters voting various vulnerabilities which could result in a major disaster. Out of then proposed 24 hydropower projects, we recommended cancellation of 23. Altitude above 2000 meters is known as para glacial region where such heavy construction should be avoided."

Views are still divided as to what caused this disaster. The experts have pinned down on two causes- an avalanche or a glacial lake burst.  

"An avalanche is a volume starts moving from high altitude and gathers momentum destroying everything in its path. While glacial lake burst is a result of rainfall and snow when it collapses breaking down everything in its path. If it's glacial lake burst then it is a big failure for our remote sensing agencies," said Chopra. 

The experts also added that the cause of the disaster needs to be investigated but mostly such occurrences are a result of lake formation. 

D P Dobhal, former glaciologist at Dehradun's Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, "Lake formation must have happened for sure which eventually breached today and caused the floods. However, an extensive investigation is needed to confirm the reason which triggered this."

ALSO READ | Uttarakhand glacier burst: Army deploys four columns, medical teams for rescue operations

Dobhal added that the heavy sediments in the flood waters indicate that an avalanche or glacial debris could have dammed the river waters resulting in the burst. 

"It will take time to ascertain the reasons as happened with the 2013 disaster in Kedarnath. After investigation it was confirmed as glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF)," said Dobhal. 

Many expressed their shock at such an incident occurring in winters. They also added that contributing factors to the disaster can be increasing anthropological activities and construction in the hills.

Amit Kumar, a scientist from Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology said, "If this is a glacier break then it is shocking. The cause needs to be investigated thoroughly. Factors like global warming annd anthropological pressure are the reason for melting of glaciers worldwide."

Interestingly, Uttarakhand high court in the year 2019 has ordered that the use of explosives to be prohibited in and around the Raini village, the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve and the Valley of Flowers, except with the prior written approval of the District Magistrate, Chamoli and on a license granted by a competent authority under the Explosives Act. 

"The District Magistrate, Chamoli shall, forthwith, take necessary steps to prevent any form of illegal mining being carried on in the said area," stated the court order dated June 26, 2019 by division bench of chief justice Ramesh Ranganathan and justice Alok Kumar Verma. 

The court also said that resort to explosives, that too for carrying on illegal mining operations, may well result in destruction of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, and the Valley of Flowers said to be located nearby. 

"While the respondent-Power Company states that they have not resorted to any form of illegal activities, and are not using explosives, we consider it appropriate to direct the Member Secretary, Uttarakhand State Pollution Control Board and the District Magistrate, Chamoli to constitute a joint inspection team to cause a physical inspection of the area; assess the extent of environmental damage caused thereat; ascertain whether illegal mining operations are carried on, and whether explosives are being used for the said purpose; and submit a comprehensive report to this Court at the earliest," the court order had stated. 

Akash Vashishtha, a conservationist based in Ghaziabad who has filed litigations related to issues in Uttarakhand in National Green Tribunal said, "Today's tragical incident in Chamoli and the consequent loss of life and property is yet another outcome of unabated obstruction of rivers by hydropower dams and encroachments/constructions on the water courses and channels in the state.

Nothing has been learnt from the June 2013 flood disaster in Uttarakhand, November 2015 Jhelum River (Kashmir floods), August 2015 losses in Chennai or the September 2019 Patna inundation. Even five years after the River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Authorities Order, 2016 notification under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, its provisions are not implemented.

Strange still, the Central Government has even shown no interest in tabling the River Regulation Zone (RRZ) draft bill (which is almost ready) in the Parliament."

He further added, "No earnestness has been shown by the Centre and State to follow the recommendations of the Supreme Court-appointed Ravi Chopra Committee report (to look into the causes of 2013 UK floods).

The ecological sanctity of the rivers in the state has been critically compromised with all these stifling constructions and is still being negotiated. Foolproof measures and zero tolerance policy is required for the protection of water channels and river courses and consequent safety and security of the people."



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