December 3, 2021
Cost of development
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Good morning. It looks like the supply chain issues are getting serious. As Christmas approaches, the US is facing a problem – a Santa shortage. Hiresanta.com founder Mitch Allen said there is a 121% increase in people asking for a Santa for an event this year. However, the supply can’t match the demand. Some have died from the coronavirus, others aren’t doing events due to the pandemic, while some others have retired.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Widening Char Dham highway in Uttarakhand: Is security really at odds with the environment?
When Tears for Fears sang “Turn your back on Mother Nature” in Everybody Wants to Rule the World, we’re pretty sure they didn’t mean it as a serious command. Yet, with every passing year, it seems like environmentalists and the government continue to be at odds. Considering how ecologically diverse India is, especially by our borders, it isn’t hard to see why the uproar continues.
In Uttarakhand, the contested Char Dham highway project continues to be a ‘rock and a hard place’ type of issue. While the government cries “national security”, environmentalists seek to protect the fragile ecosystem that building a mountain road will have devastating effects on. Now, running a country was never meant to be easy but holy cow is this a lot. So, let’s get into it.
Back in 2016, the Centre came up with a plan to connect the four major shrines located in the Char Dham circuit of Uttarakhand (which includes Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath). How were they going to do that? A massive highway expansion project that aims at providing “all-weather connectivity” in the upper Himalayas. This ₹12,000 crore project would widen 889 km of roads in the young mountain range. Thus, making the region far more accessible all around the year. So, the foundation stone was laid, PM Modi dedicated the project to flash flood victims and everything was fine.
Not really. Turns out, road widening on hills requires a lot of “slope cutting, blasting, tunnelling, dumping and deforestation”. And considering the Himalayas are still growing, this would increase the chances of landslides, flash floods and would “further destabilise” the terrain. We’re not just talking about “flora and fauna” here, several lives are at stake. This was brought to the Supreme Court’s attention by the NGO, Citizens for Green Doon in 2018.
In 2020, the apex court decided to allow the road’s carriageway width to reach 5.5 metres, based on a report by a high-powered committee (HPC). And, everything was fine… till it wasn’t again. Looking at China beefing up their border forces and infrastructure made our Ministry of Defence (MoD) request a “10 m carriageway with 12-14 m formation width” for the army. Now, safety does come first, right? But what type of safety are we actually talking about?
Dealing with a volatile border
By the end of 2020, the MoD cited the “sensitive situation existing at the Chinese border” as a reason to increase the width limit of the Char Dham road. Back then, all they wanted was an added 1.5 m, i.e. increasing the limit from 5.5 m to 7 m. The details of their request have increased since then but so has the “sensitive situation” at the border. News reports, from as recent as August this year, are bringing up more and more accounts of Chinese transgression in Uttarakhand. As the court put it, “Can we, therefore, say we will override the concerns of the armed forces or the defence?”
Even looking at it from a purely logistical point of view, the call to widen the Char Dham road is easily understandable. According to the MoD, “the Army has been using the roads since the 1962 war with China.” Back then, it was used to simply “ensure connectivity” to the troops. In the MoD’s plea, they mentioned that today, “it is imperative that men and equipment should move swiftly from army stations to the Indo-China border points”. Widening the road would basically allow for efficient mobilisation of “tanks, weapons, artillery and electronic equipment in all weather conditions”.
Clearly, one cannot overlook the strategic importance of the Char Dham highway. While it was proposed to “improve road connectivity to the Hindu pilgrimage sites”, the purpose of the same has evolved over the years. According to recent reports, China has been busy building villages, i.e. increasing infrastructure, along the border areas for a while now. This is especially dangerous as putting down solid structures by borders legitimises their claim over that area. Building roads, bridges and villages along national borders is a common and recognised way of staking a claim. Thus, an accessible Char Dham could do some good in that aspect.
Dealing with a fragile ecosystem
If we are to talk about infrastructure, it is important to note that the road systems in Tibet, an area with “huge Chinese build-up”, has been around for over 40 years. China has only been able to maintain those roads because of how flat the Tibetan plateau is. On our side, things get a little more complicated. The entire area that the Char Dham covers is prone to both flash floods and landslides and is considered “the most fragile”. This is precisely why our road infrastructure in the central Himalayas have remained rather slow for a while now. Not non-existent, mind you, but slow.
In a paper for the Indian Geotechnical Conference (IGC), P.K. Deshpande, J.R. Patil, D.C. Nainwal and M.B. Kulkarni mapped landslide hazard zones in Garhwal Himalaya. They soon found that not only was the area “structurally disturbed” but also that “most of [the] landslides begin when the excavation of roads takes place”. Something the HPC, formed by the Supreme Court, also brought up.
In fact, the HPC even clearly stated that the road construction has done “irreversible damage” to the region. They even said that there was a “disregard [for] the geology” and excavation was being done in an “unscientific manner”. The whole project has even been accused of violating the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2006.
The need for roads all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is well established. Even the most passionate and committed environmentalist knows that. It’s just that the way we are going about the road building is horrible for both the environment and human beings of the region. In fact, the IGC paper also stressed the need “to develop a road without any excavation.” At this point, even if the road gets widened, the slope failures alone would make the Char Dham completely inaccessible.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
How the BJP’s Manoeuvres in J&K Have Caused Political Chaos From the Grassroots to the Top
For the Left:
In Calling Out Colonial Mindset, PM Exposes West-borrowed Activism That Stalls Development
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Planted forests help tackle soil erosion (Assam) – A mixed tree species plantation in Brahmaputra’s degraded floodplains can help address the impact of floods and erosion. It was revealed in a study of the plant diversity and carbon stock of a 39-year-old human-created forest, Molai Kathoni, in Assam. It was created by Padma Shri Jadav Payeng, known as the “Forest Man of India.” Researchers found that the plant species and composition were similar to those of a natural forest. Planting such forests on degraded land can help restore biomass and carbon stock.
Farmers protest (Jammu & Kashmir) – In the southern Kashmir village of Oukhoo, the land will be taken over by the Jammu and Kashmir administration. A new permanent base for the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) will be constructed. As a result, dozens of poor farmers are at risk. The decision will affect 250 families who engage in dairy farming and vegetable production. Many of them staged a sit-in protest in Srinagar’s Press Enclave to ask LG Manoj Sinha to roll back the decision.
No FIR for Chola dynasty criticism (Tamil Nadu) – Filmmaker Pa. Ranjith no longer has an FIR against him. The Madurai bench of the Madras high court scrapped it. An FIR was filed against him for his criticism of the Chola dynasty. In an event to commemorate the death anniversary of anti-caste leader T.M. Umar Faroqq, he criticised Raja Raja Cholan and his rule, saying the caste system was prevalent during that time. The Thanjavur police registered a case against him for creating caste enmity.
Soren house as a heritage building (Jharkhand) – The state government will spend ₹4.59 crores to convert former chief minister Shibu Soren’s government residence into a heritage building. The Jharkhand Building Constructions Department invited tenders for renovation and restoration work. The government wanted to convert the building into a site dedicated to his struggle to get a separate state. It will have pictures, artefacts, and literature related to the Jharkhand movement.
Infosys & Education Department’s Agreement (Maharashtra) – As part of an agreement between Infosys and the higher and technical education department, the IT giant will provide free skill-based courses to over 40 lakh students across the state. It will have computer programming, AI, cloud computing, among others. They will be free, optional, and available online through the Springboard platform of the company. They will be open to students in arts, science, and commerce streams in colleges from Nagpur and Technical college, Ratnagiri in the first phase.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
$150 billion – The expected value of India’s Electric Vehicle (EV) market by 2030. In its infancy currently, the market is expected to grow annually by 90%.