Monday, August 11, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Rohtang tunnel to affect area ecology, warn experts
Pratibha Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Solang (Manali), August 10
The construction of the Rs 1,000-crore Rohtang tunnel will no doubt shorten the travelling distance to Lahaul by 46 km, making it an all-weather road for defence supplies to the strategic border areas, but it is the fragile ecology of the area which is paying a heavy price.

As many as 700 trees, mostly spruce and walnut species, will face the axe to pave way for the construction of the 9.6-km-long tunnel, which will be the longest in Asia. One of the biggest concerns of the Forest Department is the management of the almost 40 hectares, which shall be used for dumping the muck.

Cloudbursts and flash floods in the area is causing immense concern to the authorities, who feel that such a massive tunnel project is bound to worsen the already precarious situation. “It is but natural that the tunnel cannot be made without the use of explosives, which will naturally upset the ecology of the area,” admitted a senior official. He added that situation would worsen once the movement of heavy equipment begins when the 12-km-long road gets completed.

Though the clearance from the Ministry of Forest and Environment has already been taken for felling of these trees, the case for the temporary transfer of 85 hectares to the Border Road Organisation (BRO) has been moved to the Principal Chief Conservator, Forests. “On August 6 a consolidated case for 85 hectares for various purposes was submitted by the BRO to us and we have already forwarded it to the state government,” Mr Vineet Kumar, Conservator, Kulu, said. The BRO has already deposited Rs 1.50 crore as compensation for these 700 trees.

“Apart from almost 40 hectares that we need for dumping of muck, we need land for the construction of a helipad, fire station, small hospital and other such emergency infrastructure,” informed Major Rakesh Godhoke of the 38 Border Road Task Force.

Even though extensive studies have been conducted by experts from agencies like RITES India Limited, National Hydro Power Corporation, Konkan Railways, Geological Survey of India and Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment to ensure that no ecological imbalance is created, yet the fragile Himalayas are bound to bear the brunt.

“Our main task is to strike a balance between development and conservation,” opined Mr Vineet Kumar. He added that it would be ensured that there was no damage to the forest area as the work had to be done in the most scientific and planned manner.

Mr Gautam said it was very essential to ensure that the muck was not dumped loosely as it would flow down and cause further damage. 

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