Dehradun/New Delhi, June 28 (IANS) A "green approach" to development, including replanting of trees, regulating pilgrim traffic and guidelines to ensure that buildings are constructed at least 100 metres away from river banks could minimise the human tragedy of the kind that hit Uttarakhand, an environmental expert says.
"If we can't mitigate the impact of rains and floods in the mountains, we have very little choice. We should go in for a lot of green cover. A green approach to development will help minimise the effect of nature's fury," Ravi Chopra, director of the Dehradun-based People's Science Institute, and member (Expert), National Ganga River Basin Authority, told IANS in a telephone interview.
According to Chopra, care should be taken even while constructing mountain roads. The roads built by cutting into the hillside weaken the mountain slope and if the symmetry of the mountain is not taken into consideration then it increases chances of landslides.
"When the mountain symmetry is altered we get small and big landslides," the expert said.
"There should be guidelines, backed by law, to ensure that buildings are situated 100 metres away from the river bank," Chopra contended.
In Uttarakhand, including the temple town of Kedarnath, hundreds of houses constructed on river banks were washed away or destroyed in the floods.
Guidelines were also needed to regulate the traffic of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year.
"Some years ago there was concern over the melting of the glaciers at Gangotri-Gaumukh. The government then regulated the number of pilgrims to 150 a day. If they can do this kind of thing there, then why not at other pilgrimage spots," Chopra asked.
The incessant rains that hit Uttarakhand over three days from June 14, leading to flash floods and cloudbursts, have led to hundreds of deaths, while many more are missing, especially at Kedarnath. There were thousands of pilgrims in Kedarnath when the tragedy struck.
Over 70,000 stranded people, including pilgrims and tourists, have been rescued by the armed forces, the paramilitary and other officials.
Tourism brings in Rs.2,500 crore to Uttarakhand's economy, which Chopra said, is "three times the size of its planned development fund".
"Clearly, we have to strike a balance somewhere," he maintained.
He said there were suggestions to tag each pilgrim going to Kedarnath in future so they could be traced by GPS. "This is a good idea", said Chopra, adding it would help trace pilgrims in the aftermath of a rain-flood tragedy. But the need was to minimise occurrences of such natural disasters, which could be done by paying heed to the ecology of the area.
The Kedarnath and Badrinath pilgrimage is open for nearly six months and there are no checks on the number of pilgrims.
After floods and landslides killed 243 Amarnath Yatra pilgrims in 1996, the government had constituted the Nitish K. Sengupta panel which laid down guidelines on the number of pilgrims and their age limit, among others.
The Amarnath Shrine Board keeps a check on the flow of tourists, but there are no checks on the movement of pilgrims to Kedarnath-Badrinath.
(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)