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Challenge of Overpopulation in Uttarakhand: A Call for Sustainable Development

The scenic beauty of Uttarakhand, nestled in the embrace of the Himalayas, has attracted an ever-increasing number of visitors over the years. However, this influx of tourists has led to a pressing issue: overpopulation. Addressing this concern, the Supreme Court recently announced the formation of a high-level commission to assess the carrying capacity of the densely populated Himalayan states.

Exploring the Magnitude of the Issue

State government statistics paint a vivid picture of the escalating problem. In 2001, Uttarakhand welcomed around 1 crore tourists, a number that surged to nearly 5 crore by 2022. The exponential growth in tourism has put tremendous strain on the state’s infrastructure and resources, particularly in popular hill towns.

Impact on Specific Towns

Take, for instance, Nainital. In 2001, the town hosted 3.6 lakh tourists, which rose to 5.2 lakh in 2022. Similarly, Tehri witnessed a dramatic increase from 3.7 lakh visitors in 2001 to a staggering 27.4 lakh in 2022. These staggering numbers reflect the mounting challenges faced by these regions.

Unraveling the Consequences

One of the key concerns stems from the seismic vulnerability of Uttarakhand. Large portions of the state lie in seismic zones IV and V, known for high earthquake intensity. Despite this, unregulated migration, unchecked foot traffic, and haphazard construction have been rampant. Professor MPS Bisht, a senior geologist at HNB Garhwal University and former director of the Uttarakhand Space Application Center, highlights the lack of control in this regard.

Unplanned Urbanization and Its Effects

The consequences of overpopulation are evident. Approximately half a million individuals, including tourists, have abandoned their villages, with 35% relocating to nearby towns and district centers. Consequently, the populations of hill towns have nearly doubled over the last two decades, straining already scarce resources.

The Role of Infrastructure and Urban Planning

The situation is further exacerbated by the surge in population and the influx of heavy trucks. An in-depth investigation is imperative, focusing on the foundation of these towns—their slopes. Studying the slope’s inclination and sediment thickness becomes crucial in developing sustainable solutions.

Insights from Experts

SS Negi, deputy chairman of the Uttarakhand Rural Development and Migration Commission, underscores the gravity of unplanned growth. He points out the lack of scientific construction practices, inadequate sewage systems, and encroachment on agricultural lands. Towns like Joshimath have already experienced the detrimental effects of such development, emphasizing the importance of thoughtful urban planning.

A Glimpse into the Future

Acknowledging the urgency of the situation, the state government conducted a study to determine the carrying capacity of 15 pivotal municipalities. The list includes cities with high population densities like Mussoorie, Nainital, Gopeshwar, Pauri, Srinagar, and Yamkeshwar. Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami emphasized the need for balance between nature and economy, asserting that this study lays the foundation for a sustainable hill town development model.

The escalating population in Uttarakhand’s hill towns poses a significant challenge that demands immediate attention. The Supreme Court’s initiative to assess carrying capacity is a step in the right direction. Striking a balance between development and ecological preservation is crucial to ensuring the continued prosperity of these breathtaking landscapes.

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