North India Deluge 2023: Development projects compounding destruction in Himachal Pradesh, say experts 

Losses of Rs 4,000 crore in the state after 3 days of torrential rain 

By Rohit Prashar
Published: Wednesday 12 July 2023
A bridge in Himachal Pradesh’s Kullu collapsed after heavy rains. Photo: Rohit Parashar

The ongoing heavy rainfall across North India has revealed the extent of ecological damages caused by development activities and urbanisation in Himachal Pradesh. Three days of heavy rains that began July 8 destroyed property worth over Rs 4,000 crore in the state. 

More than 72 people have died in the state in the last 16 days due to natural calamities this monsoon. 

The maximum destruction has occurred in areas with development projects, leading to experts questioning Himachal’s development model. “Those regions with big projects saw the maximum losses,” an environmentalist told this reporter. 

Read more: North India Deluge 2023: Lahaul-Spiti’s cold desert receives a third of seasonal rain in a day

The maximum damage has occurred in Shimla and Kullu-Manali valley. A lot of construction work has been going on in these two districts famous for tourism in the last few years. 

For the last five years, the expansion of roads into four lanes has been going on in full swing. Heavy machinery and blasting techniques were used for this work and roads are being widened by cutting hills. Large walls were erected on the river side, making the river narrower.

Hotels and other roads have been constructed on the banks of rivers in an unscientific manner by encroaching on the area, environmentalist and senior journalist Ashwani Sharma said. “This is leading to more loss so it should be called man-made disasters, not natural,” he said. 

He points out that there is a close relationship between development and disasters. Earlier, floods after rains were less destructive. “Now boulders, wood and other construction materials are also swept away with the water, causing greater damage,” Sharma added.

Some old towns like Chamba, where no new construction work is taking place and no major projects have started, are relatively safe and saw much less damage, he pointed out. 

Reckless construction of roads and their widening has an important contribution in the destruction of the Himalayas, said Tikendra Panwar, research fellow, Impact and Policy Research Institute.

Read more: Monsoon 2023: Skewed rainfall distribution drowning north, northwestern India while peninsular south remains dry

“The Shimla-Kalka road would never get closed before, but ever since the road widening work started, it often gets closed,” he said. 

Urbanisation has led to the rapid construction of roads and buildings, road widening, felling of trees and soil erosion, said Mansi Ashar, founder of the Himdhara Environment Group. “This is turning even small disasters into massive tragedies,” Ashar said.

Young environmentalist Mahesh Negi, who runs the No Means No campaign against hydro projects in the state, said that there are many examples showing that natural disasters have increased due hydro projects and the likes in the eco-sensitive region, but the government ignores them.

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