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Supreme Court for setting up expert panel to assess carrying capacity of Himalayan region

The carrying capacity is the maximum population size that an ecosystem can sustain without getting degraded

Supreme Court for setting up expert panel to assess carrying capacity of Himalayan region

A portion of the Kalka-Shimla railway track washed away due to heavy rain, near Shimla. PTI

Tribune News Service

Satya Prakash

New Delhi, August 21

As Shimla and Joshimath face landslides and subsidence, the Supreme Court on Monday hinted at setting up an expert panel to assess the carrying capacity and master plans of the Indian Himalayan Region across 13 states and union territories.

Carrying capacity is the maximum population size that a region can sustain without degrading the ecosystem.

Terming the issue as "important", a Bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud -- which had issued notice to the government on February 17 on a PIL filed by Ashok Kumar Raghav -- said it intended to ask three expert institutions to nominate one expert each for the purpose.

As Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati told the Bench that the Centre has filed a comprehensive reply to the PIL, the Bench pointed out that it covered only Manali and McLeodGanj.

“Suppose we were to appoint expert institutions and ask them to carry out a complete exercise on carrying capacity, can you give us a formulation for that? We will ask them (states/UTs) to respond to your template. We will constitute a committee for this. You can submit draft suggestions,” the Bench told Bhati and posted it for hearing on next Monday.

In its affidavit, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change submitted that “‘Land’ is a State subject as per 7th Schedule of the Constitution of India and its sustainable management, including preservation, protection, regulation, prohibition of development activities etc. are the primary responsibility of the concerned State of Union Territory administration.”

It said that “State is duty-bound to abide by the principle of sustainable development and as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution, sustainable development has to be the very basis for every developmental venture.”

Petitioner Raghav wanted a direction from the top court to determine the carrying capacity of all ecologically fragile areas, hill stations, high-altitude areas, highly visited areas and tourism destinations in the Himalayan Region states/UTs. He urged the top court to direct the Government to take steps to assess the carrying capacity and master plans prepared for the Indian Himalayan Region.

Raghav also demanded setting up of an Indian Himalayan Region Monitoring Committee as a permanent regulatory body with a multi-tier structural and functional framework headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court to monitor all activities in the Himalayan Region and to report to the court on a periodic basis.

The issue assumes importance in view of recent landslides in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in which around 100 people have died or have gone missing. Earlier, a large number of people had to leave Joshimath due to subsidence. Considered to be the gateway to Himalayan mountain climbing expeditions, trekking trails and renowned pilgrimage sites such as Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib, Joshimath is on the brink of subsidence after huge cracks appeared in hundreds of houses, roads and fields, forcing several families to seek shelter elsewhere.

“Due to non-existent Carrying/Bearing Capacity studies, grave geological hazards in the form of landslides, land subsidence, land cracking and sinking issues such as that in Joshimath are being witnessed and serious ecological and environmental depredation are taking place in the hills,” the petitioner submitted.

“Almost all hill stations, pilgrimage places and other tourism destinations spread over the Dhauladhar Circuit, Satluj Circuit, Beas Circuit and Tribal Circuit in Himachal Pradesh also remain hugely burdened and are almost on the brink of collapse with no carrying capacities assessed for any of the places in the state,” Raghav contended.

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