In the wake of recent natural disasters in the Himalayan states like- Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, the Centre urged the Supreme Court to direct 13 hill states of the country to assess their 'carrying capacity'.
In an affidavit, the Centre also proposed setting up of an expert panel to evaluate the action plans submitted by each Himalayan state.
What is 'carrying capacity'?
Carrying capacity is the maximum population size that an ecosystem can sustain without getting degraded.
The Centre's affidavit holds importance in view of wide-scale damage caused by monsoon last month in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change filed the affidavit in a PIL by Ashok Kumar Raghav after the top court had on August 21 asked the Centre and the petitioner to discuss and suggest a way forward to enable the court to pass directions on the carrying capacity of Himalayan states and towns.
Raghav's plea sought an assessment of the carrying capacity and master plans for the Indian Himalayan Region spanning 13 states and union territories.
The ministry told the apex court that it has in the past circulated guidelines for assessing carrying capacity of hill stations including cities and eco-sensitive zones to all 13 Himalayan states by its letter of January 30, 2020 and has also sent reminder letter on May 19, 2023 to request the states that if such study has not been undertaken then they may submit the action plan, for the purpose.
"In the light of the above-stated steps taken by the respondent ministry, where comprehensive exercise has been undertaken by experts in the field, it will be imperative that factual aspects of each hill-station are specifically identified and collected with the help of the local authorities cutting across multiple disciplines," the ministry said.
The ministry said that for achieving the final goal of assessing accurate carrying capacity of each hill station, some steps ought to be taken.
"Direct all 13 Himalayan states to submit an action taken report and an action plan, in a time-bound manner, for taking steps to carry out the carrying capacity assessment as per guidelines prepared by GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment," the Centre said.
It also sought direction to all these states and Union territories for constitution of a committee, in a time-bound manner, headed by the chief secretary of the respective state, for carrying out a multi-disciplinary study as per guidelines prepared by GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment.
The government said the institute situated in Almora of Uttarakhand is involved in conducting a specific carrying capacity study for Mussoorie in the state and for Manali and Mcleodganj in Himachal Pradesh in matters pending before the National Green Tribunal.
"GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment which is an institute of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has also prepared the Guidelines for carrying capacity of Hill Stations including cities and Eco-Sensitive Zones...," it said.
The government said, therefore, considering the experience of the institute in preparing the guidelines for carrying out carrying capacity studies, it is suggested that the carrying capacity studies thus prepared by the 13 Himalayan states may be examined /evaluated by a technical committee headed by the director of GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment.
"Direct the Committee so constituted to submit its report with complete suggestions to the respective states for execution and implementation in a time bound manner, which should be periodically reviewed," the Centre sought direction from the court.
On August 21, the top court had mooted constituting an expert panel for conducting a "complete and comprehensive" study on the carrying capacity of the Himalayan region in the country, where unplanned development has caused devastation in recent times, terming it a "very important issue".
The plea of Raghav said, "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."
"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," it said.
(With PTI inputs)