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Check recession of Himalayan
glaciers, warn environmentalists

Environment experts are concerned about the ecological imbalances resulting from the recession of the Himalayan glaciers caused by several factors besides global warming.

Environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna recently called for a ban on human interference with the glaciers like trekking and mountaineering.

Glaciers and forests are the permanent storehouses of water in the Himalayas and must be protected at all costs, he stressed.

Bahuguna made his suggestions in a paper which he presented to the Planning Commission. The paper, 'Plan priorities - a grassroots approach', makes several suggestions to preserve the fragile Himalayan ecology.

Another study by the Glaciological Survey of India also points out that the glaciers' recession is causing a high level of ecological stress in the Himalayas.

The Himalayas have one of the most important glacier systems in the world and cover a vast area. The nearly 15,000 glaciers are an important source of fresh water for North India's perennial rivers.

The Gangotri glacier in the Garhwal Himalayas has been shrinking at an alarming rate of over 20 metres every year since 1990. Over the last 50 years, the Gangotri glacier has receded 600 metres.

The glacier regime, say experts, influences the climate of the area. Year to year variation of the snow cover has a direct effect on the climate of the northern hemisphere.

The glaciers' recession is also affecting the unique plant wealth of the high-altitude meadows in the Himalayas. The brahmakamal, barmoola, laljari, neekanthi and ratanjot - all medicinal and aromatic plants - are found in these meadows. In Garhwal, these meadows are called bugyals. In Kashmir, they are known as margs.

It is all the more significant to check the recession of these glaciers as there is a growing emphasis on hydroelectric power projects and irrigation schemes in the higher reaches of the Himalayan rivers.

Environmentalists are realising the importance of snow-cover studies in understanding the cryogenic environment of the Himalayas. Glaciological studies in India are, however, still at an elementary level.

Such studies are expensive and involve work on very inhospitable terrain for a long period.



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