Jnanpith Award-winning writer Amitav Ghosh has lamented that in the eagerness to send more pilgrims to holy places, the authorities are actually destroying the pilgrim sites.
These human interventions in nature, along with climate change, are responsible for the disaster faced by the pilgrim town of Joshimath in Uttarakhand, which is sinking, he said.
Not just the Himalayan town, the wildlife is in peril in the Sundarbans in West Bengal for the same reason, said the author, several of whose books deal with environmental issues.
Speaking at a recent event in Kolkata, Ghosh said he is ‘really terrified' of what the future holds for places like these.
“When climate change is unfolding, human interventions are compounding the disaster… like what happened in Joshimath. It's such a profound irony that in fervour to send more pilgrims, you are actually destroying the pilgrimage,” Ghosh said.
Joshimath is the winter seat of Lord Badri and is highly revered as Adi Shankaracharya established one of the four 'Maths' here in the 8th century.
Environmental regulations have been done away with, the eminent author said, adding that the “endless greenwashing talks” are actually intended for the COP meetings on international climate.
‘Greenwashing' is activities that make people believe that an organisation is doing more to protect the environment than it actually is.
“The whole point of going to pilgrimages to Kedarnath and Badrinath is that it was meant to be hard," the author of The Nutmeg's Curse: Parables For A Planet In Crisis said.
There is no point in arranging transports for people to go there, he said.
Reminiscing his journey to those holy places during his childhood, the author said he had seen elderly people lying down on the road and getting up as they move ahead slowly, taking a long time to reach the temples.
There is no point in arranging for buses to go there, Ghosh said.
Notably, experts said unplanned and uncontrolled construction in the name of development in Uttarakhand has brought Joshimath to the brink of sinking. They also sought regulation of the ‘Char Dham' road project which aims at providing all-weather connectivity to four holy towns -- Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath -- of the state.
“Human interventions are actually compounding the disaster at a rate and scale when it's impossible to be optimistic about what lies ahead,” the author said.
Ghosh asserted that the manifold increase in the number of tourists has taken its toll on birds of the Sundarbans of West Bengal, 1,700 kilometres away from Joshimath on the other side of the country.
His recent visit to the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was 23 years after the previous one. His 2005 book The Hungry Tide deals with the environment and people of the mangrove forest region.
“In the past, you would see so many flocks of birds, you would see so many kinds of raptors (birds of prey)... This time there were so few birds, there were no raptors except only one common Brahminy Kite. You can see more of those in Delhi than you do in the Sundarbans,” he said.
One of the most wonderful things about the forest and the maze-like backwaters there was its silence, said Ghosh, the author of Jungle Nama (2021), another book on the Sundarbans.
“The biggest change that I saw in the Sundarbans this time is the unbelievable increase in tourism. Earlier you would see hardly any tourist boats, now there are like hundreds, making an incredible noise constantly. Now there is never any silence. There are loudspeakers constantly blasting. It's kind of dystopia,” he said.
While on one hand, meetings are held on protecting the environment, forests are being opened up for mining interests on the other, Ghosh said.
Many of the people associated with mining companies are vegetarians, but “they have no qualms about destroying entire ecosystem even though everything in their religion and culture tells them this is something completely wrong,” said the author.
He advised young and aspiring writers to focus on reality.
“Engage with the reality that is around you, not the sorts of fanciful stories that are told about how we're going to be the next superpower. Just look at the environmental constraints that we see all around us and you will see a very different picture. It is urgently necessary to engage with those issues,” he said.