Scrutinising Developmental Projects
After successfully rescuing the 41 workers trapped 260 meters inside the Silkyara tunnel in Uttarakhand for 17-long days, it is time now to closely scrutinise the sustainability of all ongoing developmental projects in the Himalayan region to prevent such incidents from occurring again. Many environmentalists had warned against altering the fragile ecology of the world’s youngest mountain range in the name of development. But in search of comfort and material possessions, environmental degradation in the Himalayan region continues unabated, putting not only precious lives and property in danger, but also affecting the country in many ways including its food production. The tunnel collapse must act as an eye-opener for all stakeholders and it must be ensured that only development projects in adherence with stringent terms and conditions imposed to protect the said region get necessary clearance. A prominent environmentalist, who is a member of the Uttarakhand Pollution Control Board publicly lamented the rampant flouting of the rules in the state. He further warned that such willful violations of the law might prove suicidal sooner than later and had urged the authorities to take immediate steps to stop construction works putting the Himalayas at risk.
At the same time, it is not yet clear why the ‘escape package’ approved in the original plan had not been built to protect the labourers working inside the tunnel. It is no gainsaying that through such a passage the trapped workers could have been rescued soon after the collapse of a portion of the tunnel. This is a serious breach of safety regulations and the guilty persons responsible for the delay in constructing escape routes should be handed over exemplary punishment as per the law for putting the lives of innocent workers in grave danger. Moreover, required geological studies had allegedly not been conducted as the company building the tunnel found the work more challenging than was originally stated. It is quite perplexing as to how the company would not have been aware of the complexities of the region, as it is common knowledge that the northern part of the Himalayas are made up of sedimentary rocks, which makes it a quake-prone region. The sustainability of the ambitious all-weather road project has always been in question considering the frequent seismic activities in the area throughout the year.
In recent times, we have witnessed several tragedies in the Himalayan region causing enormous damage to many lives and properties. It is high time we learned a lesson from these tragedies and apply necessary remedial measures. With the ever growing reality of climate change, we should ensure that only sustainable developments occur in the Himalayan region to ensure protection of its ecological fragility. Else, the region with its vast fertile land will soon become a source of immense catastrophe.