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Floods in HP UPSC NOTE

 


  • Flash floods during this year's monsoon season in Himachal Pradesh have resulted in unprecedented damage, with a death toll exceeding 150 and an estimated total loss of ₹10,000 crore. 

  • Climate change is believed to have contributed to the high precipitation leading to these floods.

  • Human-induced disasters resulting from planned development have also played a significant role in causing colossal losses. 

  • In the past five years (before 2022), 1,550 lives were lost, and nearly 12,444 houses were damaged in Himachal Pradesh due to such disasters.

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlights that the Himalayas and coastal regions of India will be severely impacted by climate change.

  • In the Himalayas, there is a noticeable shift in precipitation, with increased rainfall occurring in shorter periods of time.

  • The India Meteorological Department data indicates that while the normal rainfall during a specific period is expected to be between 720 mm and 750 mm, certain instances have seen much higher levels, such as 888 mm in 2010 and 926.9 mm in 2018.

Anthropogenic Factors

  • Himachal Pradesh's development model, known as the Dr. Parmar model, was successful in transforming the state into a model of development for mountainous regions. 

  • It focused on land reforms, state-led investment in social welfare, and human resource development, resulting in significant improvements in social development indices.

  • With the advent of liberalisation, mountain states faced demands for stringent fiscal reforms and the need to generate their own resources for fiscal management.

  • To meet fiscal demands, the state turned to the exploitation of natural resources, including forests, water, tourism, and cement production, for development purposes.

  • The rapid construction of hydropower projects, expansion of cement plants, changes in agricultural practices towards cash crop economies, and road widening had negative consequences for the environment, leading to damage to rivers, ecosystems, altered land use patterns, and landscape changes.

  • The shift towards cash crop economies like apple and off-season vegetables brought economic vibrancy, but it also had implications for the landscape and river systems.

  • The balance between development and environmental sustainability became a challenge, as anthropogenic factors and the focus on resource exploitation contributed significantly to the disaster, apart from climate change.

Hydropower Projects

<p>The Karcham Wangtoo hydropower project site at Kinnaur district, Himachal Pradesh , India [Image by: Wikimedia Commons]</p>

  • Uncontrolled construction of hydropower projects, particularly the "run of the river" dams, has transformed mountain rivers into mere streams, leading to devastating floods during periods of higher precipitation or cloudbursts

  • Dumped muck from these projects is carried along with the water, causing harm to river ecosystems.

  • Currently, 168 hydropower projects are operational, Projections suggest that by 2030, 1,088 more projects will be commissioned, This surge in hydropower projects raises concerns about the likelihood of impending disasters in the region.

Tourism

  • The development-driven road expansion in mountainous regions aims to promote tourism and attract a large number of visitors.

  • The road-widening projects, carried out by NHAI, follow a public-private-partnership (PPP) approach, with an emphasis on completing projects rapidly. 

  • However, this has led to bypassing essential geological studies and mountain engineering skills, resulting in massive landslides and damage to existing roads.

  • Traditionally, mountainous regions are terraced to minimize environmental damage, but the road expansion projects in Manali and Shimla have cut mountains vertically, leading to severe landslides and destruction. 

  • The consequences of such expansions are evident even during normal rainfall, with increased slips and slides, amplifying destruction during heavy rain or floods.

Industry

  • Extensive cement plant establishment and mountain cutting in districts like Bilaspur, Solan, and Chamba have caused significant land use changes, leading to reduced water absorption capacity and contributing to flash floods during rainfall.

Change in crop patterns

  • There is a silent transformation in agriculture and horticulture patterns, with more farmers embracing cash crop economies over traditional cereal farming.

  • The shift to cash crops requires quick transportation to markets due to their perishable nature

  • In response, roads are being constructed hastily without proper land cutting and gradient considerations, leading to water-related issues during rainfall.

  • Improper road construction and drainage management lead to rapid swelling of rivers and negative impacts on the ecosystem.

Way forward

  • To address the issues, a Commission of Inquiry should be formed to involve major stakeholders, especially the people, in discussions about policy framework failures and peculiar aspects of undertaken projects.

  • A new architecture is needed to empower local communities over their assets.

  • Compensation for losses faced in the form of culverts, village drains, small bridges, schools, and other social infrastructure can be achieved through insurance if the custodians are local communities. 

  • This will aid in quicker asset rebuilding.

  • With climate change being a reality, infrastructure planning should be adjusted to avoid contributing to the problem and avert disasters that the state has been experiencing since June.

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