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March 30, 2024

Environmental Groups Rally for Himalayan Protection: Call for Ban on Infrastructure Projects

Amidst the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, over 60 environmental and social organizations have come together under the banner of “People for Himalaya” to advocate for the preservation of the fragile Himalayan ecosystem. These groups have fervently demanded a cessation of all mega infrastructure projects, including those concerning railways, dams, hydroelectric ventures, and four-lane highways within the Himalayan region. In a unified voice, they emphasized the necessity of mandatory referendums and public consultations for any proposed development projects.

During a virtual press conference, representatives of these organizations unveiled a comprehensive five-point charter of demands aimed at political parties contesting in the elections. Their primary call was for an immediate moratorium on all large-scale infrastructure endeavors, coupled with a thorough multidisciplinary evaluation of the impacts wrought by existing projects.

Furthermore, the coalition stressed the imperative of democratic decision-making processes, advocating for referendums and public consultations as integral components of project approval mechanisms. They underscored the need to fortify the Environment Impact Assessment Notification-1994 while vehemently opposing the amendments introduced in EIA-2020 and FCA-2023. Additionally, they urged for the implementation of free, prior, and informed consent from gram sabhas for all developmental initiatives.

Speaking at the conference, prominent climate activist Sonam Wangchuk lamented the disproportionate burden borne by local communities in the wake of environmental disasters exacerbated by industrial exploitation. He criticized the lack of accountability among beneficiaries of governmental rehabilitation efforts, highlighting the urgent need for conscientious policymaking.

Mohan Saikia from the Northeast Dialogue Forum drew attention to the ecological ramifications of proposed hydropower projects in the Brahmaputra basin, cautioning against proceeding without the consent of indigenous communities. He warned against the cyclical nature of devastation, citing floods as a tangible consequence of unchecked infrastructure development.

Echoing Saikia’s concerns, representatives Guman Singh and Atul Sati attributed recent calamities such as the Beas floods and land subsidence in Joshimath to ill-conceived policies and inadequate regulatory measures. Vimla Vishwapremi of the Parvatiya Mahila Adhikar Manch emphasized the disproportionate impact of these disasters on vulnerable groups, including pastoralists, landless Dalits, and women.

Anmol Ohri from the Climate Front Jammu raised alarm over the implications of unbridled tourism and construction activities on Himalayan glaciers and riverfronts, warning of heightened flood risks. The coalition collectively advocated for the reinforcement of state laws, such as the Van Panchayat Rules in Uttarakhand, to safeguard the rights of nature-dependent communities.

Furthermore, they stressed the importance of inclusive governance structures, calling for the active involvement of gram sabhas, panchayats, and municipal bodies in disaster management and climate adaptation initiatives. They advocated for transparent communication channels to disseminate the latest risk assessments and solicit community input on mitigation strategies.

In essence, the coalition’s demands underscore a holistic approach to environmental conservation and sustainable development in the Himalayan region. As the nation gears up for elections, these voices serve as a poignant reminder of the urgent need to prioritize ecological integrity over short-term gains.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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