Flowers will continue to bloom in the world heritage site Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand as the National Green Tribunal has stayed work on a controversial power project in buffer zone of the Valley that was approved by the environment ministry.
The tribunal this week stayed the approval given by the ministry to GMR Energy for cutting down trees in 60 hectare of forest land in the ecologically sensitive area for construction of the 300 MW Alaknanda-Badrinath hydroelectric project. The tribunal ordered no trees on the forest land proposed to be diverted shall be felled without its prior permission.
With this directive, work on the project could come to a halt for all practical reasons because the Supreme Court had earlier observed that work on non-forest lands of any project can’t be taken up if work on forest lands is held up due to some reason.
The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) had denied clearance to the project twice in 2011 on grounds of adverse effects on the region’s ecology and wildlife. However, environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan overruled FAC and gave go-ahead to GMR last November. Subsequently, green groups challenged the clearance in the tribunal.
The power project falls in the buffer zone of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, which extends over two national parks-Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers-listed as World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
The region serves as a corridor for movement of snow leopard, brown bear and other wild species.
The FAC had observed that existing disturbance in the region such as pilgrim movements during summer, road construction and work on Vishnuprayag hydroelectric project had already seriously threatened ‘outstanding universal values’ of the Valley of Flowers. In order to preserve these values, the state government had declared a buffer zone which is also required to be conserved as the integrity of Valley depends on the zone.
Among wild habitats, the most affected would be the habitat of the snow leopard, an endangered species. Snow leopards require large and contiguous landscape and any fragmentation of their habitat poses a danger to their survival. The ministry’s own Project Snow Leopard suggests landscape approach to conservation of the species.
“Developmental projects in roads, barrages and hydel may have limited impact on large mammals on their own, but the process of building these structures can be more damaging. Blasting, movement of labour and vehicles can cause irreparable harm by disturbing habitat,” observed Yash Veer Bhatnagar, director, Snow Leopard Trust-India.
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