From the mega road expansion project in the name of national security to building cascading hydroelectric power projects, from unplanned expansion of towns to unsustainable tourism, the Indian State has ignored warnings about the fragile ecology.
Nine tourists were killed and three others injured in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district on Sunday when boulders fell on their vehicle during multiple landslides, triggered by heavy southwest monsoon rains. On July 12, heavy rain-triggered flash floods in the state’s Kangra district swept away three people, buildings, and vehicles. Uttarakhand too has seen its share of natural disasters this year, starting with the massive flash flood in Chamoli in February that killed more than 80 people.
The Himalayan landscape is susceptible to landslides. Formed due to the collision of Indian and Eurasian plates, the northward movement of the former puts continuous stress on the rocks, rendering them weak and prone to landslides and earthquakes. This, combined with steep slopes, rugged topography, high seismic vulnerability, and rainfall, make a deadly cocktail. Top this with the utter disregard for the fragile topography and climate-sensitive planning. From the mega road expansion project in the name of national security (Char Dham Highway) to building cascading hydroelectric power projects, from unplanned expansion of towns to unsustainable tourism (even in the middle of the pandemic), the Indian State has ignored warnings about the fragile ecology. Such an approach has also led to pollution, deforestation, and water and waste management crises.
It is important to have early warning and better weather forecast systems, and a trans-boundary coalition of Himalayan countries to share and disseminate knowledge about the mountains. But what is most critical is to review the area’s present status and draw up a sustainable plan that respects the specific requirements of this fragile region and the impact of the climate crisis.