J&K Govt to strictly implement Centre’s fresh SOPs on environmental safeguards in projects

‘Committed to protect J&K’s eco-fragile environment’
A Gujjar shack is seen nestled between dense forest along a hill in Sonamarg in Kashmir [Representational Image]
A Gujjar shack is seen nestled between dense forest along a hill in Sonamarg in Kashmir [Representational Image]Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

Srinagar: With Jammu and Kashmir being vulnerable to natural disasters, J&K government would strictly implement the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by the Centre stressing on mandatory disaster management plans, risk assessment and eco-fragility studies in development projects especially construction of highways, roads and tunnels within 100 km of the International Border (IB) or the Line of Control (LoC).

The SOPs issued by the Union Environment Ministry earlier this month have been formulated in the aftermath of Joshimath crisis in Uttarakhand where thousands of people have been rendered homeless due to cracks in their houses following caving in of the foundations.

Experts said that the disaster was mainly caused due to haphazard construction of projects including tunnels in the mountainous areas.

The SOP directs agencies to mandatorily implement environmental safeguards in all roads and highway projects falling within 100 km of the IB or the LoC for sustainable environmental safeguards.

Talking to Greater Kashmir, Principal Secretary to the Government, Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment, Dheeraj Gupta said that the J&K government would strictly implement all measures including fresh SOPs to protect the environment.

“We are committed to implement SOPs and directives which are to be undertaken while executing projects to safeguard the environment,” Gupta said. “With J&K being an eco-fragile area, environmental protection is our prime responsibility in all projects across J&K. We will ensure to undertake Environmental Impact Assessment of vital projects before execution. It is J&K government’s endeavour to go for sustainable development.”

J&K falls under the high seismic Zones IV and V, making J&K vulnerable to earthquakes.
J&K falls under the high seismic Zones IV and V, making J&K vulnerable to earthquakes.GK Layout Desk

According to a memorandum issued to chairpersons of all pollution control boards, expert appraisal committees and environment impact assessment authorities, the Union Environment Ministry states that agencies should conduct a risk assessment and, based on that, a disaster management plan as per the Disaster Management Act be prepared.

“It should be approved by a competent authority and implemented,” the ministry said.

It states that the exemption of prior environmental clearance for all highway projects up to 100 km from the LoC or border does not exempt it from approvals, consent, and permissions required to be obtained under any other act, rule, regulation, byelaws, and notification.

“If the proposed route is passing through any hilly area, comprehensive study on vulnerability for landslide, slope stability, (the) vulnerability of the project area from the point of view of seismic activity taking into account the seismic zone in which it is located, (an) eco-fragility study of the area shall be carried out through reputed technical institute on the basis of which environmental friendly and safe construction methodology shall be adopted,” the ministry said.

The project proponents have been asked to prepare landslide management plans and take all remedial, precautionary measures before, during, and after construction.

“They should ensure that all environmental safeguards are mandatorily implemented under the supervision of subject experts before undertaking construction. In case of cutting or embankment, measures should be taken to control soil erosion from the embankment and prevent landslides, and rockfall,” the ministry states in the memorandum. “If the proposed route involves tunnelling and or horizontal directional drilling, a detailed study on tunnelling and locations of tunnelling with geological structural fraction and its possible impact on the existing structures in its vicinity, flora, fauna, terrain, should be carried out so as to ensure that there is no damage to life, property and environment in its vicinity.”

It also mandates carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the water catchment, hydrology, and drainage pattern within 10 km of the alignment.

“The natural course of rivers or creeks should not be diverted. All the major and minor bridges and culverts should not affect the drainage systems. Flood plains of the rivers and drainage systems are not to be disturbed. Rainwater harvesting structures are to be constructed on either side of the road,” the ministry states. “In case the road passes through a floodplain of a river, detailed assessment of micro drainage, flood passages and flood periodicity should be carried out and a management plan prepared and implemented. Appropriate measures must be taken while undertaking digging activities to avoid any likely degradation of water quality.”

The project proponent should carry out a detailed study to assess the inflow of traffic from adjoining areas such as airports and urban cities.

“It should include complete designs, drawings, and traffic circulation plans (taking into consideration integration with proposed alignment and other state roads etc). Wherever required, adequate connectivity in terms of vehicle and pedestrian underpasses should be included,” the ministry states.

Greater Kashmir has been highlighting major issues confronting the fragile environment of J&K, which is vulnerable to natural disasters especially earthquake and floods, and underscoring the need for risk assessment to minimise damage.

J&K falls under the high seismic Zones IV and V, making J&K vulnerable to earthquakes.

A study conducted by Roger Bilham, a seismologist and professor of Geology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, US, had warned that a major quake with magnitude 9 in the Richter scale was likely to cause landslides and subsequent major destruction.

A powerful 7.6 magnitude earthquake rattled J&K on October 8, 2005, causing massive destruction in the region.

Exceptionally heavy rainfall led to overflowing in Jhelum, Chenab, and Tawi basins, causing floods in J&K in September 2014.

On the pattern of Joshimath, cracks developed in several houses in the hilly Nai Basti area of Thathri in Doda district of Jammu forcing their migration.

Doda has emerged as one of the most eco-fragile areas in J&K due to its unique geoclimatic conditions.

Chenab Valley housing huge dams on Chenab including Dul Hasti in Kishtwar, Baglihar in Ramban, is prone to natural disasters.

The Srinagar-Jammu National Highway frequently gets closed due to landslides, especially in Ramban district.

Experts said that the landslides are triggered mainly due to construction works and use of heavy machines.

Scientific studies indicate that Kolahoi, the largest glacier of Kashmir’s Jhelum basin, is retreating rapidly due to spurt rise in temperature triggered by global warming and extreme pollution.

Noted earth scientist Prof Shakil Romshoo welcomed the Government of India’s SOP on environmental safeguards.

“Such standard operating procedures that emphasis’ environmental safeguards are necessary for all infrastructure development projects in the entire Himalaya,” he said.

Ramshoo has been maintaining that the Himalayas are one of the most fragile ecosystems and “need adequate safeguards against the onslaught by humans to protect their fragility”.

“Development of buildings and settlements on unconsolidated materials, moraines, and narrow valleys in the tectonically active zones should be discouraged throughout the hilly regions in the Himalayas including J&K as these are unsuitable for the purpose,” he said.

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