Uttarakhand’s Chardham Highway Project: Disaster Prevention Or Disaster Promotion?

Posted by Nirali Vaidya in Environment
December 24, 2017

The “Chardham Yatra” in Uttarakhand consists of visiting the four holy abodes of God – Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath – all of them located at more than 10,000 feet above sea level. Each of these dhams have their own strong spiritual significance.

While Yamunotri marks the origin of the holy river the Yamuna, Gangotri is attributed to the origin of the most pious of all rivers of India – the Ganga. Kedarnath is the energy center of Lord Shiva, which is also one of the 12 jyotirlings. Badrinath besides being the abode of Lord Vishnu, is also the place where holy sage Vyas has written Mahabharat in Vyas gufa.

According to the Vedic tradition, there are certain protocols to be followed while undertaking this “Chardham Yatra”. The yatris (travelers) have to forgo all the worldly comforts, remain satisfied with basic necessities and endure all physical and mental challenges with fortitude. The yatris should not bother about body gratification, personal comforts, food indulgences and luxuries that tether them towards worldly pleasures and hinder the process of union with the supreme which is the goal of tirth yatra (holy travel).

The Himalayan belt full of challenges aids the process of union with the supreme. The high altitude climb amidst the unpredictable rains and cold weather reaffirm the uncertainty of life, diminishes the ego of the perishable body and brings one closer to the truth of life. It is said that these experiences taking place before reaching the final abode of God, help one connect better with the energies present at the final destination.

Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojna or the Chardham highway project aimed at making Chardham yatra ‘faster and more convenient’ is not only going to jeopardize the entire goal of undertaking the Chardham yatra but is slated to pose a major threat to the ecology of entire Himalaya.

The government claims that the 900 km road to be constructed with an investment of ₹12,000 crore along with bypasses, tunnels, bridges and flyovers will ensure round-the-year, hassle-free travel even in the face of natural calamities. It means that building roads and bridges is the calamity-proof solution proposed by the government wherein there will be no cloudbursts, no earthquakes, no floods, no famines due to this infrastructure development!

If experts are to be believed the real cause of instability in the Himalayas is the large-scale construction and the dams built on the rivers. The more we dig the Himalayas, the more it will react. The real essence of Himalayas is to seek solace, knowledge and spiritual awakening.What helps the process of the discovery of the ultimate truth in the Himalayas is the pristine nature yet untouched by the human greed. Making the Himalayas accessible to everyone including those who are disinterested in acknowledging the glory of the place is not benefiting anyone, neither the tourists nor the mountains.

People living in the foothills of Himalayas are reported to be suffering from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress arising due to the recurring natural calamities in the region. If the government really wants to erase the anxiety of the locals as well as ensure a safe journey for the tourists, it should let the Himalayas untouched. It should prevent the further exploitation of Himalayas due to continuous infrastructure which includes real estate, hydro projects and the excessive network of roads and railways.

Musk deer (Kasturi mrig) found in the Himalayas is considered to be a very sensitive creature. According to the professionals who are engaged in musk deer farming, these deer are timid in nature and are very prone to heart attacks which are provoked by sudden loud sounds or movements. The large-scale construction under the Chardham highway project will produce continuous sounds arising out of dynamite bursting, and other construction activities, which will astoundingly disturb and harm the flora-fauna of the place. Moreover, out of the total land acquisition proposed under this ‘eco-friendly’ construction, 246.66 hectare belongs to the forest land.

In his 21st radio address ‘Mann Ki Baat’, Prime Minister Modi called for protection of the environment and asked people to pledge to collectively work towards conserving precious environmental resources. Is the Himalayan belt excluded from the pledge? What is more important for the government – to promote tourism or to protect the rare environment of the Himalayas? If tourism tops the government’s priority, destroying the peace and serenity of the Himalayas will only adversely affect its mission.

Every tourist spot has its own idiosyncrasy. Goa is known for its effervescence, Rajasthan for its art and culture, Kerala for its green landscapes. The Himalayas are revered for the calmness, serenity, spiritual power and solitude which have harbored great saints and their inventions. The easy accessibility will help change its essence and convert it into just another tourist destination offering landscapes that will make for a good selfie.  It is said that the visible form of God on this earth is nature. Destroying one form of God to attain another does not fall under the scope of any pilgrimage, let alone the tirth yatra.