The central government’s announcement of a 110 km four-lane highway to the Amarnath cave sanctuary has raised environmental concerns. The Amarnath cave is located on Mount Amarnath, with an altitude of approximately 5,486 meters above sea level, attracting thousands of yatris (pilgrims) every year.
The proposed construction of a massive infrastructure project could negatively impact the environment, including the destruction of forests, damage to water resources, and disturbing wildlife habitats.
At a press conference in Srinagar, Union Highway, and Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari announced that the two-lane PU Marg hard shoulder highway would be built at the cost of Rs 5300 Cr so that the yatra will be smooth for pilgrims.
The work on the 73 km four-lane highway from Khanabal to Chandanwari will cost Rs 1,800 by July 2023, and a Detailed Project Report (DPR) of 37 km from Chandanwari to Baltal via Panchtarni.
Khanapal to Chandanwari Road is a stretch of road that runs from Khanapal village to the starting point of the Amarnath Yatra, which is Chandanwari.
From Chandanwari, the road to reach Amarnath Cave Sanctuary goes through Pahalgam then Sheshnag and Panchtarni. The stretch from Chandanwari to Panchtarni is about 16 kilometers and can be covered on foot or by ponies.
From Panchtarni, the last stop at Amarnath Yatra involves walking to the sanctum sanctorum of Amarnath Cave, located at an altitude of around 3,888 metres. The trek from Panchtarni to Amarnath is about 6 kilometers long and passes through the Mahagonas Pass.
Proposed Amarnath four-lane road raises environmental concerns
The proposed construction of a four-lane road to the Amarnath cave sanctuary has raised significant environmental concerns.
Experts speaking to Ground report said that ‘the proposed construction of a four-lane highway to the Amarnath cave sanctuary raises serious environmental concerns. It could lead to the destruction of forests, damage to water resources, and disturbance of wildlife habitats, resulting in long-term ecological damage.’
They added ‘The government should consider sustainable alternatives, such as improving existing infrastructure or limiting the number of yatris, to reduce the environmental impact of the pilgrimage. The region is ecologically sensitive, and any major construction project could have significant long-term consequences.’
‘It is essential to prioritize environmental considerations in any development project. The Amarnath cave sanctuary is a vital part of the region’s biodiversity, and any construction or development activities must be carried out in a manner that minimizes damage to the environment and respects the local communities and their traditional livelihoods”.
Environmentalists propose tunnel for Amarnath pilgrimage
Another expert said “Building a massive highway through the ecologically sensitive region of Amarnath cave sanctuary is a short-sighted decision that could have disastrous consequences for the environment and the local communities. The government should prioritize sustainable and eco-friendly solutions that minimize the impact on the fragile ecosystem and respect the rights of the indigenous people who depend on it”.
The expert expressed concern about the proposed four-lane highway, stating, “Two years ago, we submitted a report to the government suggesting an alternative solution for the Amarnath cave pilgrimage. Our recommendation was to construct a tunnel rather than a four-lane highway. A tunnel would minimize the environmental impact and preserve the sensitive ecology of the region.”
The construction of a four-lane highway could lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, which could accelerate the melting of glaciers in the region. This would not only affect the local ecology but also have long-term consequences for the availability of freshwater resources in the region.
The expert’s suggestion aligns with the concerns raised by other environmentalists, who have called for the government to consider alternative solutions to the proposed highway.
The construction of a tunnel could significantly reduce the environmental impact, including reducing the destruction of forests and minimizing the damage to water resources and wildlife habitats. A tunnel would reduce air and noise pollution, which would be a significant concern for local communities.
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