The Chandigarh-Manali national highway blocked near Mandi due to heavy rain on Saturday. (BIRBAL SHARMA/HT)
The Chandigarh-Manali national highway blocked near Mandi due to heavy rain on Saturday. (BIRBAL SHARMA/HT)

Scientists raise concern over frequent landslides, flashfloods in Himachal

Himachal has recorded 35 major landslides from June 13 — the onset of monsoon season in the state — till July 30, a pointer to the fragile ecology of the Himalayan region. Last year, 16 landslides were recorded across the hill state.
By Gaurav Bisht, Shimla
PUBLISHED ON AUG 01, 2021 03:03 AM IST

Reoccurrences of landslides and flashfloods in Himachal Pradesh this monsoon season have left the environmentalists and geological experts concerned. The state has recorded an increase of 116% in the landslide incidents while cloudburst occurrences have gone up by 121% this monsoon season compared to 2020.

Himachal has recorded 35 major landslides from June 13 — the onset of monsoon season in the state — till July 30, a pointer to the fragile ecology of the Himalayan region. Last year, 16 landslides were recorded across the hill state. Similarly, 17 incidents of flashfloods were reported across the state this year compared to just nine last year.

“Climate change signs have started showing up. Planning in accordance with the changing environment is required. Coordinated efforts from all quarters are needed to save the ecology of the state,” says Jagdish Chander Kuniyal, scientist and head of Centre for Environmental Assessment and Climate Change, Mohal (Kullu).

The tribal Lahaul-Spiti district, the worst hit this season with a total of 13 landslides and 11 instances of flashfloods, four of them triggered by cloudbursts, an unusual occurrence in the district which is a cold desert.

Mandi and Shimla have reported four major landslides while three were reported in Kullu and two each in Chamba, Kinnaur and Solan. Two flashfloods each were reported in Chamba, Kullu and Kangra. Increased occurrences in such incidents have not only caused damage to the property but also claimed about two dozen human lives.

In Kangra, 10 people died and five were injured in a landslide that occurred on July 12, while nine tourists died in a landslide in Kinnaur on July 25 when the vehicle they were travelling in was hit by shooting stones at Batseri. Three people have died in landslide incidents in Chamba.

A total of 10 people died in flashfloods, maximum seven in Lahaul-Spiti after a cloudburst flooded Tozing Nullah near Keylong on July 28. Two labourers’ tents and two vehicles were swept away in gushing waters.

In Kullu four people were washed away after a flashflood in Brahm Ganga rivulet at Manikaran. There is no trace of the missing.

Man-made disaster

Scant regard to the environmental laws and the government’s failure in protecting the green cover is one of the major reasons behind the landslides. A team of geological experts that visited the Kinnaur tragedy site felt the need for more forestation in the region.

“Mountains in Himachal Pradesh that are part of Himalayan range have one of the most fragile ecosystems. Steep slopes, poor soil, and heavy monsoon rains make the hills vulnerable to erosion. Deforestation accelerates the process, as topsoil slides down into rivers. There is need for planting more shrubs and trees to strengthen the soil strata,” said Manoj Kumar, director, Geological Survey of India, who led the three-member team to Sangla. The panel has made a number of suggestions to the district administration. “We will compile our report when we return. There is a need for erecting more walls along the hillside to check the soil erosion,” he said, adding that the final recommendations will be submitted to government soon.

“It’s development at the cost of nature. Constructions activities in Kinnaur have been taking place without paying attention to the fragile ecosystem,” says RS Negi, a retired IAS officer and leader of Him Lok Jagriti Manch (HLJM) that vehemently opposed the hydel power projects in the state.

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