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Building Infrastructure In Mountainous Areas 


Building infrastructure in mountainous areas cannot follow the same approach as in flat plains. The devastating floods in northern India in August have raised serious concerns among top officials. In the previous month, Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, leading a bench, recommended the formation of an expert committee to conduct a thorough and extensive assessment of the Himalayan region’s capacity to support development. In response, the government has now suggested the establishment of a 13-member technical committee to address this issue.


GS3-Environment, Disaster Management

Mains Question:

How effective are the recent government initiatives in protecting the Himalayan ecosystem? What more can be done to preserve its environment? (10 marks, 150 words).

Carrying Capacity:

The term “carrying capacity” originates from the field of population biology and typically denotes the number of individuals of a species that can live and thrive in a specific ecosystem without causing harm. In most cases, when a population surpasses this capacity, it results in a natural decline in numbers, as observed in instances such as overgrazing in grasslands or the proliferation of invasive species, which disrupt the existing ecological balance.

Carrying Capacity in the Himalayas:

When considering these concepts in the context of hill stations and Himalayan states, the difficulty lies in finding a delicate equilibrium between a growing population, infrastructure requirements, and the fragile terrain. This undertaking is expected to be quite challenging. Based on recent history, it’s improbable that an impartial scientific viewpoint will be acceptable to all stakeholders in the Himalayan states.

Initiatives taken to study the Himalayan ecosystem:

2013In the aftermath of the devastating floods in Uttarakhand in 2013, the Supreme Court appointed a panel of experts to investigate the impact of hydropower projects within the state. While the committee’s findings did lead to a reduction in proposed hydroelectric projects, they failed to impose restrictions on road expansion initiatives and the reshaping of mountainsides in ways that were considered unsuitable for the region’s topography.
2020As early as 2020, the central government had distributed guidelines to all 13 Himalayan states for assessing the carrying capacity of their hill stations, cities, and ecologically sensitive areas. In May, the Ministry of Environment issued a reminder to all states, urging them to conduct such assessments and submit the results “at the earliest opportunity.”

Analysis of these initiatives:

The land subsidence crisis experienced in Joshimath, Uttarakhand, in January triggered a discussion about the clash between infrastructure development and ecological concerns. However, within a few months, Himachal Pradesh faced an unexpected deluge that washed away roads and highways constructed on stripped-down mountains. Additional committees and reports won’t alter the fact that building infrastructure in hilly areas cannot follow the same approach as in flat terrain.


 States must either accept the higher costs associated with building in a more sustainable manner that minimizes risks to residents or designate certain regions as off-limits. The latter option has, for decades, been exploited for political gain. As unequivocal scientific evidence emphasizes, the choice to defer addressing these issues is no longer viable.

April 2024