Natural Disasters

Blazing India: The Himachal hills feel the heat too, but in different ways

As the plains scorch, residents head for the hills in the thousands, posing a threat to their fragile ecology

 
By Rajeev Khanna
Last Updated: Friday 05 July 2019
Tourists and vehicles at Rohtang Pass. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Tourists and vehicles at Rohtang Pass. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Tourists and vehicles at Rohtang Pass. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Though Himachal Pradesh does not directly experience a heatwave, there are indirect effects, nevertheless.

The biggest indirect effect of a heatwave is the influx of people and vehicles from the plains to the hills and the subsequent pollution and congestion.

Road stretches such as Kalka-Shimla, Mandi-Kullu and Kullu-Rohtang are hit badly every summer due to traffic jams as visitors from the plains make a beeline for the Himachal hills.

Vehicles get stuck for several hours and this results in dumping of plastic waste, wrappers besides thousands answering the call of nature along the roads.

Things came to such a pass that the administration in Shimla this year decided to shut schools on two successive weekends in June to avoid traffic congestion.

It is the traffic snarls between Manali and Rohtang that call for immediate attention. In 2015, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had ordered regulation of the traffic movement allowing only 400 diesel and 800 petrol vehicles to ply on this 50 kilometre stretch.

Vehicles bearing registration numbers of Lahaul and Spiti, along with public transport vehicles were exempted. However, there was a provision for a special permit for vehicles owners who wanted to go to destinations beyond Rohtang Pass.

Sources disclosed that there is a major violation of the norms and the special permits are being misused. This is because in the name of going beyond Rohtang, tourists are being ferried just up to the pass and brought back to Manali.

“There is no reason for a traffic jam on this stretch. The norms are being flouted right under the nose of the government and even the NGT is quiet,” said a source.

The four lane work on various roads like the Kalka-Shimla and Mandi-Kullu has taken its own toll. Besides the chopping of thousands of trees, the water channels have disappeared. To make matters worse, the frequent landslides with boulders coming down at repeated intervals are adding to the chaos.

“The authorities just fail to acknowledge the toll this unbridled tourist inflow has taken,” environment activist Akshay Jasrotia told Down To Earth.

“Nobody is talking about communities like those of shepherds and cattle rearers that have been worst-affected. With the vehicles consuming the entire space, they cannot move freely with their animals and are being forced to transport them in trucks. The tent camping sites that have come up in the meadows that are actually the grazing lands further add to the problem. Since all this is being carried out in the unorganised private sector, monitoring becomes very difficult,” he added.

Pawnu Kumari, who comes from the pastoral community of the remote Bara Bhangal area said, “The condition is such that many times, vehicles brush the animals being taken on the road. The tented accommodation on grasslands that are anyhow shrinking often leads to a conflict as those living in these tents dump their waste in the same area. In addition to this, conduct of the visitors in such areas is having a bearing on the local youth as well.”

There have been reports of agriculture fields being turned into parking lots at some places. 

Weather

Another matter of concern is the increased frequency of western disturbances bringing hailstorms and rains in the summer months. The hailstorms have caused massive damage to stone fruit, apple and other crops.

The Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, a common platform of farmers, has sought compensation for the farmers and stopping of loan recovery from them.

“Climate change is showing its impact. Studies are being conducted on the long-term impact of such phenomenon,” SK Bhardwaj, who heads the environment science department at YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, said.

He also said excessive heat does have a bearing on the crops that start wilting if they do not get ideal moisture and temperature.

Rigzin Hayerpa, an activist from Lahaul, said prolonged winter, followed by an increased frequency of western disturbances, has led to chilly mornings and evenings in the area even in the middle of June.

“This is beneficial for us as it would yield a good produce of exotic vegetables and floriculture,” he said.  

Thanks to the prolonged winter marked by a good snowfall, the state is not experiencing a severe water crisis like the previous year although in several towns and villages the water is still being supplied after three to four days.

But things are definitely in turmoil and a long-term strategy to mitigate the impending disasters is the need of the hour.

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