MoEF backs commerce in Uttarakhand eco-sensitive zone

The previous order declared a 100-km stretch between Gaumukh and Uttarkashi on the banks of the Ganga river as an “eco-sensitive zone”, restricting all types of construction and development activities on an area of 4,179.59 sq km.

A year after a BJP government assumed power in Uttarakhand, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest allowed development of tourist resorts and commercial complexes between Gaumukh and Uttarkashi, an eco-sensitive zone, in the hill state.

Last week, the ministry issued an official notification amending the existing rules put in place by the UPA government in 2012.

“Tourist resorts and commercial complexes shall be located in areas with surplus water and electricity, in consultation with Gram Sabha and existing users and with due approval of State Environment Impact Assessment Authority,” says the new notification. Establishment of new saw mills has also been permitted.

Previous curbs

The previous order declared a 100-km stretch between Gaumukh and Uttarkashi on the banks of the Ganga river as an “eco sensitive zone”, restricting all types of construction and development activities on an area of 4,179.59 sq km.

The amendment permitted many activities on the condition that such activities won't harm the natural beauty and ecology; the state environment department approves it and is in accordance with the zonal master plan.

It doesn't talk about construction of hydro-electricity projects in the upper reaches of the Ganga, which was the bone of contention between environmentalists and government for years. The 2012 notification barred hydro-power projects except mini hydel projects up to 2 MW capacity that can serve the needs of local communities.

The new notification, on the other hand, maintains that “Works related to re-construction, disaster mitigation, lift irrigation, hospitals, schools, food godowns and other social and national security infrastructure shall be carried out with due study of environmental impacts and complying with their mitigation options.”

It includes erection of electric cables, setting up of sub-stations, transformers and other related infrastructure and establishment of communication infrastructure.

Power shortage

Incidentally, the new notification comes few months after Dehradun-based social activist Avdhash Kaushal threatened to launch an agitation against the 2012 notification, arguing that because of ESZ status Uttarakhand has to spend nearly Rs 1,000 crore every year to buy electricity as no new hydro-electricity projects are allowed.

Instead of a blanket ban, the amended rules allow construction and commercial activities on the hill slope subject to environmental approval and no loss of green areas and no damage to the water resources.

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MoEF backs commerce in Uttarakhand eco-sensitive zone

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