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Alpine meadows are ‘God’s grasslands’
 
Uttarakhand HC bans overnight stays at all bugyalsAlpine meadows are ‘God’s grasslands’

Terming high-altitude alpine meadows as ‘God’s grasslands’, Uttarakhand high court (HC) has directed the state government to “consider declaring all important high-altitude valleys and alpine meadows/ sub-alpine meadows/ bugyals with rich plant population as high-altitude national parks and sanctuaries within a period of six months.” The division bench of acting chief justice Rajiv Sharma and justice Lok Pal Singh also banned overnight stay in the alpine meadows citing it to be a threat to the fragile ecosystem of the area and ordered removal of all permanent structures including fibre huts constructed for tourists in meadows across the state within three months. The state government said it might approach the Supreme Court against the HC order.

All permanent structures to be removed in three monthsAlpine meadows are ‘God’s grasslands’


The bench while delivering the order on Tuesday remarked that bugyals are an important feature of the ecosystem and “every effort should be made to save them from disaster.” The judges further ordered to restrict the number of tourists visiting these areas to not more than 200 at a given time. Quoting several texts and scholarly works as well as previous judgments given by various courts including the Supreme Court, the judges outlined the importance of meadows for the Himalayan ecology. They also cited scriptures like the Guru Granth Saheb, holy book of the Sikh community, to stress the point that “air, water, earth and sky are God’s home and temple.” To ensure that the meadows retain their pristine beauty, the court directed all 13 district magistrates of the state to carry out “removal of plastic water bottles, cans etc from all bugyals within six weeks” and directed the state government to make sure that no new construction or encroachment is done in these alpine meadows “in any form, even in the name of religion.” 

Number of tourists visiting meadows also cappedAlpine meadows are ‘God’s grasslands’


The court in a series of other directions also ordered the state government to “conduct a systematic survey of its flora at the earliest to prepare a comprehensive manual, as recommended by experts within six months” and added that “every forest division should have a herbarium of important medicinal, rare, threatened and botanically-interesting plants for reference.” Pointing out that bugyals are eco-systems in themselves and the damage caused to them has led to global warming resulting in melting of glaciers at an alarming rate, the bench rued that the state government has not taken effective steps to conserve and preserve these areas. “The state government is directed to constitute Eco-Development Committees within six weeks throughout the state to protect and preserve nature, environment and ecology,” the HC said.

Rotational grazing to be implementedAlpine meadows are ‘God’s grasslands’


The 57-page order cited books like Pranay Lal’s Indica: A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent, Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, Dr Rajendra Dobhal’s Grassland Ecosystems of Central India Himalaya, GS Rawat’s Alpine Meadows of Uttaranchal and said, “The conservation of these Bugyals is of utmost importance. The petitioner has sought a direction to the forest department to take steps and to make a policy for the protection of bugyals situated below the peak of Roopkund Lake particularly known as Aali-Bedini-Bagzi bugyals... The forest department has constructed fibre huts on these bugyals... The commercial activity in these bugyals has led to soil erosion and pollution including poaching of animals…” The court noted that the fibre huts had been constructed with a concrete base. “These constructions adversely affect the environment and the ecology of the area. The bugyals are maintaining the eco-system. The damage caused to the eco-system i.e. bugyals is considered to be the key to global warming and melting of glaciers,” the HC order said.

State government may appeal to Supreme court for reliefAlpine meadows are ‘God’s grasslands’

The state government was also directed to introduce rotational grazing of cattle in bugyals and to ban commercial grazing. “Local shepherds alone will be permitted to graze their cattle on bugyals by imposing reasonable restriction on the number of cattle,” the judges directed. However, meadows across the state are tourist attractions. Auli, for instance, which lies in the state’s Chamoli district, is one such meadow which has been developed into an international skiing destination and fetches over Rs 4 crore annually to the state government. Removing all permanent structures from a place like Auli, on which up to Rs 200 crore have been invested, could put the state’s tourism-based earnings on the backfoot. On Wednesday, state forest minister Harak Singh Rawat said, “We will study the court order and if we find that it will affect tourism-based earnings, then we will approach the Supreme Court to get a stay on the order.”

 
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