Landslips in Himachal Pradesh point to the need for a new development paradigm
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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