By: Lavanya Rautela
Rescuers were busy finding more bodies on Friday, 19 February, as they toiled hard and used different gadgets inside a tunnel in the disaster-hit Tapovan project in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district.
“We have reached 166m deep inside the tunnel and 6m in slope. We are using all gadgets to look for more bodies,” a top official said.
Besides the human loss, the disaster has also shown a keen impact on the environment and shown us the error of our ways.
— The New Indian Express (@NewIndianXpress) February 20, 2021
Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a tool that helps disclose the environmental impacts of a development project through a systematically prepared EIA Report. The Environment Ministry uses the findings of the report to decide whether a project should be granted Environmental Clearance (EC) or not.
The 2019-20 Annual Report of the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC) indicates that 322 projects were granted EC between April and December 2019. The report is silent on the number of projects that were not granted EC in this period. It also does not say how many projects were considered in total. Reporting only EC approvals may seem appropriate in an economic growth report but seems hardly a benchmark of annual performance for an Environment Ministry.
The debris also can change the course of rivers and greatly alter water quality and aquatic biodiversity. There have been protests and PILs against this project as well. The locals, who understand the Himalayan ecosystem well, know that this all-weather road project is nothing less than a major environmental setback.
Weak explanations are given in the Environmental Assessment and Summary EIA Reports for minimizing damage to environment and wildlife. For instance, the project impact on fish migration is said to lessen in the long run because several other hydroelectric projects are planned which will anyway reduce, if not eliminate, fish population in the river.
No aspect of the project makes it viable and it should have been dismissed as soon as it was proposed. Yet, the digging of tunnels was allowed in the Himalayas which is a very fragile terrain.