Another warning: On landslips in Himachal Pradesh

A landslip has struck again in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh killing at least 14 people and burying several others, just over a fortnight after a similar disaster killed a group of tourists. This time, the catastrophe has been even more severe, with mud, rocks and debris raining down on vehicles including a State transport corporation bus on National Highway 5. Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has said that 60 people may have been buried and multiple agencies including the ITBP, National and State Disaster Response Forces were frantically trying to rescue survivors. Himachal Pradesh, a picturesque western Himalayan State that has made progress on social developmental indices, faces rising instability from environmental factors such as climate change and heavy monsoon rainfall. Landslips have become a familiar feature, and seismic events threaten to increase their frequency and aggravate the impact. The same NH-5 was similarly blocked by falling rocks in the wake of heavy rain in August 2019, along with several other roads, and the season witnessed a significant loss of life, particularly in Kinnaur. There is considerable scientific literature now arguing that Himachal’s mountain slopes are experiencing not just seismicity and rain-induced stresses but also man-made pressures to exploit hydropower and build more roads, and are being rendered even more fragile.

Much of Himachal Pradesh is in the high risk zone for landslips, calling for great caution in pursuing disruptive projects, particularly hydropower. The Landslide Hazard Zonation Map of India marks over 70% of the State as ‘high risk’ and 14% as ‘severe’ to ‘very high risk’. The threat of earthquakes remains potent, as the mountains here are young in geological terms and therefore active, and about 32% of the State is categorised as a high damage risk zone for seismicity. A developmental model that prioritises heavily engineered structures such as dams and hydropower that involve rock blasting, tree felling and inundating large spaces clearly jeopardises the integrity of mountain slopes; roads developed along the slopes face the brunt of the impact, as the Kinnaur landslips show. In some cases, the roads themselves have been destroyed. A decade ago, the action plan on climate change published by the State identified some key hazards and wanted to take long-term remedial measures. It is time for an update, going beyond disaster management, and the recurring disasters only add to the urgency. There is wide support among local communities for sustainable tourism and an expansion of the farm-based economy, particularly apple growing. But these can progress only when environmental losses are halted. With greater rainfall and cloudburst activity, Himachal Pradesh is bound to face greater uncertainty. Maintaining the status quo can only make the ghastly episodes of falling boulders and lost lives a more frequent feature.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 6:37:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/another-warning-the-hindu-editorial-on-landslips-in-himachal-pradesh/article35886745.ece

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