Navi Mumbai: Lack Of Regulatory Authority Raise Concerns Over Hill Development Safety
Navi Mumbai: As the country has been witnessing rapid development across its hills, a concerning revelation has come to light through information obtained under the RTI Act. Despite the ongoing all-around development, there is no designated hill development regulatory authority, leaving environmentalists and experts worried about the safety of such endeavours.
Navi Mumbai-based Environmental activist B N Kumar, in light of the recent Silkyara and Chamoli disasters, raised a query with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) regarding the existence of a hill regulatory authority. The response from Dr. Susan George K, Scientist ‘E’ from the Mountain Division of the MOEFCC, revealed that there is no information available on any regulation titled ‘Hill Areas Development Regulations’ or any authority named ‘Hill Areas Development Regulation Authority.’
This lack of a regulatory body has prompted concerns about the uncontrolled development in the hills. Kumar, who is also the director of the environment-focused not-for-profit platform NatConnect Foundation, had previously expressed his worries to the Prime Minister. However, the issue was referred to the MOEFCC, which closed it, stating there was no specific grievance.
Kumar finds this response shocking, particularly in the context of his letter addressing Himalayan and other hill disasters. The absence of a regulatory body becomes even more alarming given the landslides and floods in hill areas across the country, including the recent Irshalwadi landslide in Raigad district, Maharashtra.
The primary concern raised by environmentalists is the lack of checks and controls on the unplanned development of infrastructure in the hills. Adding to the crisis is the issue of widespread legal and illegal quarrying around Mumbai and in various parts of the country. While different departments, such as forest or environment, come into play, the absence of a central authority with proper rules and regulations for hill development is evident. The various Hill development Councils, according to experts, seem to be more politically oriented than regulatory bodies.
Nandakumar Pawar of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan supports NatConnect’s contention, arguing that hills are public properties and should not be subjected to development under the guise of progress. While basic infrastructure for people, especially tribals and Adivasis in the hills, may be necessary, the kind of highway, tunnel, and dam development currently underway is deemed as criminally negligent.
Pawar criticizes the government, particularly the central government, for not involving local communities in decision-making processes regarding development in ecologically sensitive areas. The concerns raised by environmentalists and activists highlight the urgent need for a comprehensive regulatory framework to govern hill development and ensure the ecological integrity of these sensitive regions.