No Light at the End of Tunnel
Even as all-out effort has been made to rescue 41 workers trapped in an under-construction tunnel in Uttarakhand for more than a week now, eyes are being drawn to risk involved in taking up ambitious projects like this one — Char Dham project — aimed at providing all weather access to four holy Hindu shrines. While there is nothing wrong in taking up such projects, as easy connectivity is one of the prerequisites for prosperity, the authorities might have failed in calculating the risk factors related to construction works in the Himalayan region, which is considered as one of the world’s most fragile topographies. This is evident from the fact that there was no contingency plan in place for rescuing the labourers when a portion of nearly 4.5 km-long tunnel collapsed, although in principle, the authorities had agreed to build an escape route in case of any such eventualities. As a result, notwithstanding the all-out efforts by the rescuers, so far, success continues to elude. Sensing the gravity of the situation, the authorities have sought foreign help, who are yet to deliver the goods. The only silver lining is that all the trapped labourers are still alive as Oxygen and other essentials are being sent through pipes to them. But there is a question mark on how long they will survive in such inhuman conditions staring at death. Surely, time is running out.
In recent times, the Himalayan region have witnessed numerous disasters amid acceleration of developmental projects being initiated in this ecologically sensitive zone, ignoring the suggestions of many experts, who are against taking up any big construction works in the region. Sadly, early warnings have failed to stop the authorities concerned from taking up projects that have the potential to damage the environment as well as endanger lives. While large scale deforestation has the potential to increase the chances of landslides manifolds in the region, high-rise buildings are causing subsidence in areas like Joshimath. Disruption to natural drainage system by building hydel power projects is making region more prone to flash floods, claiming lives and destroying properties. Cries to save Himalayan ecology are getting louder, but it has failed to yield any concrete response to protect the region, which is responsible for making India one of the most fertile nations in the world.
There is no denying that easy access to the far-flung areas in the Himalayas is necessary, as that will open up various development avenues. But we cannot ignore nature at any cost in the name of enhancing connectivity. A detailed geological study of the region and research on sustainable engineering is necessary before going ahead with any major project to avoid tragic incidents. Risk factors should be taken into account at the planning stage itself. We should not repeat same mistakes, again and again.