NEW DELHI: Close on the heels of the Joshimath crisis, the Centre has issued a standard operating procedure asking agencies to mandatorily implement environmental safeguards in all roads and highway projects falling within 100 kilometres of the International Border or the Line of Control.
The standard operating procedure (SOP) issued by the Union Environment ministry on February 6 stresses on mandatory disaster management plans, risk assessment and eco-fragility studies and precautions during tunnelling.
The guidelines come seven months after the ministry waived the requirement for environmental clearance for highway projects up to 100 kilometres of the International Border (IB) or the Line of Control (LoC).
“The guidelines are to be followed for all roads/highway projects falling within 100 km from the International Border/Line of Control for sustainable environmental safeguards.
“Further, the exemption of prior EC (environmental clearance) for all highway projects up to 100 km from the LoC or border does not exempt it from approvals, consent, permissions etc, required to be obtained under any other act, rule, regulation, bye-laws and notification etc,” read an office memorandum issued to chairpersons of all pollution control boards, expert appraisal committees and environment impact assessment authorities, among others.
Agencies should conduct a risk assessment and, based on that, a disaster management plan as per the Disaster Management Act be prepared. It should be approved by a competent authority and implemented, the ministry said.
“If the proposed route is passing through any hilly area, comprehensive study on vulnerability for landslide, slope stability, (the) vulnerability of the project area from the point of view of seismic activity taking into account the seismic zone in which it is located, (an) eco-fragility study of the area shall be carried out through reputed technical institute on the basis of which environmental friendly and safe construction methodology shall be adopted,” it said.
Project proponents have been asked to prepare landslide management plans and take all remedial, precautionary measures before, during and after construction. They should ensure that all environmental safeguards are mandatorily implemented under the supervision of subject experts before undertaking construction.
In case of cutting or embankment, measures should be taken to control soil erosion from the embankment and prevent landslides, rockfall etc.
“If the proposed route involves tunnelling and/or horizontal directional drilling, a detailed study on tunnelling and locations of tunnelling with geological structural fraction and its possible impact on the existing structures in its vicinity, flora, fauna, terrain, etc. should be carried out so as to ensure that there is no damage to life, property and environment in its vicinity,” the ministry said in the office memorandum.
It also mandates carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the water catchment, hydrology and drainage pattern within 10 kilometres of the alignment. The natural course of rivers or creeks should not be diverted. All the major and minor bridges and culverts should not affect the drainage systems. Flood plains of the rivers and drainage systems are not to be disturbed. Rainwater harvesting structures are to be constructed on either side of the road.
“In case the road passes through a floodplain of a river, detailed assessment of micro drainage, flood passages and flood periodicity should be carried out and a management plan prepared and implemented. Appropriate measures must be taken while undertaking digging activities to avoid any likely degradation of water quality,” it said.
The project proponent should carry out a detailed study to assess the inflow of traffic from adjoining areas such as airports and urban cities. It should include complete designs, drawings and traffic circulation plans (taking into consideration integration with proposed alignment and other state roads etc). Wherever required, adequate connectivity in terms of vehicle and pedestrian underpasses should be included.
Authorities in Uttarakhand have declared Joshimath in Chamoli district a landslide and subsidence-hit zone. Wide cracks have appeared on residential and commercial buildings and roads and fields in the town renowned as a hiking and pilgrimage destination. A number of structures have been declared unsafe and residents shifted to safer places.
Satellite images released by the Indian Space Research Organisation showed the Himalayan town sank 5.4 cm in just 12 days following a possible subsidence event on January 2.
Although Joshimath is built on a fragile mountain slope in a region prone to landslides, its sinking is being attributed to large-scale development projects being undertaken there.