Himachal-based environmentalists call to rethink policies for sustainable future
In a devastating turn of events, Himachal Pradesh has recently experienced an unprecedented disaster during the monsoon season.
In the aftermath of floods, as Himachal Pradesh is battling to rebuild the ravaged regions, the environmental groups have called on the state government to rethink its policies that are proving detrimental to the environment and focus on sustainable growth to conserve the Himalayas.
In a devastating turn of events, Himachal Pradesh has recently experienced an unprecedented disaster during the monsoon season. The state was battered by continuous rainfall, resulting in flash floods, landslides, and widespread destruction. The catastrophe resulted in significant loss of life and property.
Between July and August, the relentless rainfall caused 168 landslides and 72 flash floods across the state, severely affecting districts such as Kullu, Mandi, Shimla, Sirmaur, Solan and Chamba. The toll on human life has been staggering, with 481 people losing their lives, 40 individuals still missing and 505 suffering injuries.
As, many as 21,129 animals perished, and 6,030 cow sheds were destroyed. The destruction of residential and public buildings has been widespread, with 1,186 pucca houses, 1,745 kutcha houses and 419 commercial buildings in the basement affected. Another 12,264 houses suffered partial damage, displacing a significant portion of the population.
Chamba-based environmental group “Himalayan Niti Abhiyaan”, headed by Kulbushan Upmanyu, submitted an eight-page report to governor Shiv Pratap Shukla containing suggestions and recommendations to minimise the losses caused by natural disasters in the future.
One of the key recommendations is the training of micro-level scientists for the precise demarcation of flood-prone areas and the implementation of strict regulations on infrastructure development within these zones. The report also emphasises the importance of safe disposal of debris from under-construction projects, with a call for closer monitoring and scientific investigation of debris found in villages.
Furthermore, the report stresses the need to review land use policies and prioritise geological sensitivity when selecting sites for construction projects. “Input from geologists should be considered in large infrastructure projects, roads and four-lane highways to mitigate risks associated with landslides and other geological hazards,” said Upmanyu.
Experts believe that the floods in the Beas Valley were not solely caused by heavy rainfall, major factor behind the high flood impact was the floating load, including debris from road and tunnel construction, which blocked riverbanks and mid-water. This debris uprooted trees and diverted the river towards urban areas and four-lane highways, intensifying the disaster.
Commercial construction projects have emerged as a significant driver of deforestation, endangering biodiversity and worsening the ongoing climate crisis. The growing demand for water resources, fuelled by these projects, has accelerated deforestation rates. Simultaneously, the threat of destruction, including landslides and forest fires, looms over both the environment and human settlements.
The report advocates for a paradigm shift away from the current trajectory of infrastructure development and commercial projects. Instead, it calls for the revival of mixed forestry, which not only safeguards against natural disasters but also provides vital resources for local communities, including food, fuel, medicine and wood.
Unchecked urbanisation presents another existential threat, as unplanned growth without adequate drainage infrastructure sets the stage for landslides and building collapses. The controversial “2041 Shimla Development Plan,” despite being cancelled by the NGT in 2018, still lingers, poised to double Shimla’s population by 2041. The report suggests that political pressures influenced its creation and advocates for its withdrawal.
Recognising the urgency of the situation, the report underscores the importance of involving local civil society, NGOs and self-governing institutions in decision-making processes. Their perspectives, born from intimate knowledge of their regions, should be central in shaping policies and implementation strategies the report suggests.
The crisis has also taken a toll on tourism, a vital contributor to the region’s GDP. Infrastructure breakdowns and overcrowding have plagued the sector. The unchecked construction, excessive vehicular traffic, and environmental mismanagement have triggered a crisis. The report urges a transition to “responsible tourism,” fostering local empowerment and regulation to curb real estate speculation in the name of tourism.