SC proposes expert panel for comprehensive study of carrying capacity of Indian Himalayan region

 The Supreme Court on Monday mooted constituting an expert committee for conducting a “complete and comprehensive” study on the carrying capacity of the Himalayan region in the country, where unplanned development has caused devastation in recent times, terming it a “very important issue”.

The carrying capacity is the maximum population size that an ecosystem can sustain without getting degraded.

A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud was hearing a plea seeking an assessment of the carrying capacity and master plans for the Indian Himalayan Region spanning 13 states and union territories.

The counsel appearing for petitioner Ashok Kumar Raghav told the bench there was a need for a comprehensive study by expert institutions as devastation was noticed almost every single day in the Himalayan region.

“So, we can appoint say three or four of these institutions which will nominate their representatives and we can ask them to carry out a complete and comprehensive study on carrying capacity within the Himalayan region,” said the bench, also comprising Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra.

The bench asked the petitioner’s counsel to give it a small note proposing which those expert institutions should be and what should be the broad terms of reference for such a panel.

It asked the counsel to give his note to Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati, who was appearing for the Centre, in advance.

“We will constitute the committee. You can probably sit down and give us the way forward then,” the bench said, adding, “This is a very important issue which he (petitioner) has raised.”

The petitioner’s counsel said a “carrying capacity template” was developed by the government in the past.

Referring to an order passed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Bhati also told the bench that such a template was formulated. She said the Centre had written to states and union territories and now they have to show what they have done about it.

When the petitioner’s counsel referred to some expert institutions which can conduct a comprehensive study on this issue, the bench said,” Let there be a comprehensive study involving these institutions and let them take three-four months and come up with some substantial carrying capacity tools and template for the entire Himalayan region.”

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Bhati said the petition has arrayed 16 respondents including 13 states.

“We will ask them (states) to respond to your template within four or eight weeks,” the bench said, while posting the matter for hearing on August 28.

“Due to non-existent carrying/bearing capacity studies, grave geological hazards in the form of landslides, land subsidence, land cracking and sinking issues such as that in Joshimath are being witnessed and serious ecological and environmental depredation are taking place in the hills,” the plea has said.

“Almost all hill stations, pilgrimage places and other tourism destinations spread over the Dhauladhar Circuit, Satluj Circuit, Beas Circuit and Tribal Circuit in Himachal Pradesh also remain hugely burdened and are almost on the brink of collapse with no carrying capacities assessed for any of the places in the state,” it said.

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