Skip to main content

Dry spell, forest fires: Himachal rural areas in distress amidst unprecedented tourist rush

By Bharat Dogra* 

Reports of water shortages and forest fires have been appearing all through the month of April in Himachal Pradesh. It is ironical that the tourist rush to popular hill-stations like Shimla, Manali and Kasauli increased heavily during this month, even though increasing sufferings of local villagers were reported.
According to rainfall data, the rainfall from March 1 to April 23 this year (2022) was just 7 per cent of the norm for this period, a fall of around 93 per cent. Due to this agriculture as well as horticulture have suffered a lot.
Whether it is apple or stone fruit orchards or the farms growing vegetables and grains, loss to a lesser or greater extent has been reported from everywhere. Drinking water shortage has been reported not just from remote villages but also from leading cities like Solan and Shimla. In Solan the situation was aggravated by mysterious appearance of some polluting agents as well as cases of water pipes bursting and spilling a lot of water.
Water pollution is an increasing problem even as water scarcity is becoming more acute. Many water sources are already in a precarious condition and despite so many water schemes being implemented water scarcity is today a major issue for many villages as a result of the prolonged dry spell. For some ponds tanker supply had to be arranged to save fish from dying.
Forest fires have become a serious menace already at an early stage of the summer. From April 1 to 24, as many as 449 forest fires have been reported, affecting 3,209 hectares of forest land. In addition there are other smaller fires which do not make it to official records.
Particularly worrying have been fires closer to very densely populated Shimla, such as fires of Taradevi, Rajhana, Panjri and Kachighati. Pine monocultures and their fallen needle-like leaves are the most susceptible to fire.
Although still there is hope of rains providing relief in the near future, preparations to face possible prolonging of dry conditions have started. A call has been given to nearly 1,800 youth to extend their cooperation in extinguishing of fires and protection of forests.
While some of these official efforts are welcome, the dry spell has exposed some of the glaring distortions and weaknesses of the development effort. While in terms of pipelines and taps installation the progress of drinking water schemes may be impressive, in terms of actual protection of water sources the condition in not good as reports of excessive sand mining and pollution continue to appear from time to time. The natural flow of Satluj and some other rivers is being harmed by excessive hydro project construction.
Much has been said about removing pine leaves in a big way for use in various products but their huge felling on ground continues to be a problem in the rapid spread of forest fires.
The task of evolving a system of forest protection based on close cooperation of government and village communities is really needed but has not progressed adequately.
On the other hand introducing exotic species and plant material in orchards has been encouraged which will make it more difficult for them to withstand the harsher and warmer conditions brought by climate change. The craze for introducing exotic species appears to be increasing ignoring the reality of having more hardy local species.
Particularly worrying have been fires closer to very densely populated Shimla, such as fires of Taradevi, Rajhana, Panjri and Kachighati
The higher emphasis on dams and hydro projects, on pipelines and highway projects and on exotic trees and crops can be counter-productive when basic natural resources are not protected, when rivers and springs and other water resources are getting depleted and polluted, when orchards and farms re becoming more vulnerable to spells of hotter and more dry weather.
These distortions were reflected in a rather amusing controversy which was reported recently in media in the context of a World Bank funded Rs 1,134 crore project on horticulture and orchards.
Controversy erupted in Himachal Pradesh when 34 officials reportedly decided to go abroad to learn from horticultural practices abroad. Some of the bigger and richer orchard owners said that they too wanted to go abroad as a part of this visit to orchards in distant lands.
In the tussle over finding a place in the foreign trip, at public cost of course, what was ignored was that instead of spending on the foreign travel and hospitality of so many persons, it would be much better to meet the pressing needs of several small orchard owners.
The recent dry spell with its alarmingly low (compared to the norm for this time of the year) rainfall as well as the spurt of forest fires point towards a climate change type of situation. In fact in some of the plain region parts of the Himalayan state, even heat wave type conditions were reported for a few days. 
To cope with the difficult times ahead, a much better and wider response of climate change adaptation as well as overall ecologically protective policies and practices is needed.
---
*Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. Recent books include ‘Planet in Peril' and ‘India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food'

Comments

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Examples of support to Hindu temples, scriptures, saints by 'Muslim' rulers galore

Siya Ram coin issued by Akbar By Bharat Dogra* At a time when the country as well as the world are passing through very difficult times leading to more urgent need for strengthening national unity for meeting several big challenges ahead, unfortunately disputes relating to religious places have been allowed to raise their ugly head once again. It is well-realized by now by many people that it is not historical facts but narrow considerations of political gain and spreading of fanatic ideas of intolerance which are behind such mischief, but due to the increasing threat of mob violence and patronage available at higher levels to groups spreading intolerance many people are reluctant to openly and fearlessly express their views. Hence there is urgent need for broad-based peace committees with wider social support to spread the message of communal harmony and to appeal against the dangers of spreading false messages regarding places of worship which can ultimate

Gyanvapi case: Use of 'illegal' lawfare to keep the communal pot simmering

By Venkatesh Narayanan, Bobby Ramakant, Manoj Sarang* With a steady drumbeat of bad news for the lives of ordinary citizens --  inflation at a multi-year high , rupee at an all-time low , negative job creation and when all forward indicators as seen by industry leaders point to recessionary clouds on the horizon , what’s a serially-incompetent government to do?  Dust out their time-tested-citizen-distraction playbook. The Gyanvapi-Masjid case is all of this -- as a weapon of mass distraction. This zeitgeist of our times is best captured by a recent opinion piece : "The idea is to keep the pot on a perpetual boil, simmering at the top, whirling feverishly beneath. A restless society forever living precariously on the precipice arouses distrst, uneasiness, fear and discomfort, That is a toxic panoply for manufacturing rage, which can then be effortlessly mobilized at short notice. BJP is creating an eco-system of real-time instant delivery of hate-mongers. That is how we are sudde

Targeting mosques, churches: 'Roadmap' for 2025, RSS' centenary year?

416 years old Our Lady of Health Church, Sancoale, Goa  By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  Fascists use manipulative strategies aimed at whipping up sympathy and support from the majority community, to which they normally ‘belong’. They do so in a variety of insidious and subtle ways. In the past few months, they have gone overboard in their efforts to denigrate and demonize minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Christians. They have spewed hate and divisiveness through their venomous speeches; incited people to violence and have effectively used officialdom to further their vested interests. The results are there for all to see: greater polarisation of the majority community in a country which prided itself for its pluralism and diversity. Their meticulously planned agenda is in order to gain absolute power of the country in the 2024 national elections. More so it is also a roadmap towards 2025 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will complete one hundred years of its existence.

Upholding labour rights, Nehruvian scientific temper, Rajni Patel opposed Emergency

By Harsh Thakor*  Rajni Patel, who died 40 years ago, whatever his flaws, had one great quality: his human touch to offer selfless service and ability to galvanise or influence human beings from all walks of life. Few people would ever go out of the way to help someone or serve as selflessly without aim of personal gain. Rajni championed Nehruvian secular ideas and scientific temper. As a master in public relations he revealed utmost humility. As a barrister, he never appeared against the trade unions or workers. A Fabien Socialist he opposed liberal capitalism and radical socialism. Unlike most lawyers, he did not succumb to the lure of amassing wealth. Rajni was born in Sirsa, in Gujarat, on the very day Gandhi set foot on Indian soil, on 9th January, 1915. He gained his baptism through one of Gandhi's speeches calling for the boycott of foreign goods, which was the virtual turning point of his life. Rajni toed Gandhi to organise boycott of foreign goods. Rajni was able to cros

This varsity succumbed to extra-academic mobocracy, 'ignored' Hindutva archives

By Shamsul Islam* Open letter to Sharda University vice-chancellor Sub: Discarding a Question on Linkages of Hindutva with Nazism/Fascism is blatant Academic Dishonesty! Dear Professor Sibaram Khara Saheb, Namaskaar! According to your esteemed University’s portal: “The name of University, 'Sharda' is synonymous to 'Goddess of knowledge and learning-Saraswati'. She is identified with 'veena', an Indian musical instrument and the ‘lotus’, where she resides. The lotus in our logo symbolizes the seat of learning that the University is created for.  "Variety of colours signify the variety of disciplines the university offers and the overlap between petals creating new colours demonstrate the ethos of collaboration between students and teachers of different programme, nationality, creed and colour working towards creating new knowledge…the University's cherished mission to provide education beyond boundaries and to facilitate the students and faculty to achie

Whither climate goal? Increasing reliance on coal 'likely to worsen' India's power crisis

By Shankar Sharma*  Recent news articles, How to shock-proof India’s power sector and Power minister points finger at states for worsening electricity crisis , have highlighted a few current problems for the ongoing power sector issues as in April 2022. However, there is a lot more to it than a few temporary solutions as indicated in the articles. It should also be emphasised that it is techno-economically impossible to completely shock-proof a highly complex and geographically wide-spread vast power network, such as the one in India, which is only getting more and more complex with the passage of each year due to some irrational policies/ practices in the sector. A business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, wherein more and more of conventional technology power plants, including coal power plants, will be added in the near future, will also necessitate the increased complexity in the integrated national grid, and as a result the instances of power shortage/ disruptions can only escalate for

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

A former Modi ally, Prashant Kishor wanted to enter Congress 'on contract, as trader'

By Anand Sahay*  The Congress Party and the election campaigns specialist Prashant Kishor, whose company has done strategic communications for a host of political parties across ideology, should both count themselves lucky that they could not reach an agreement for Kishor to join the party. News reports suggest that the Congress rejected Kishor’s terms. This is not wholly unexpected. People join a party because they are attracted to it, and wish to serve it in any capacity that the party may see fit. But that isn’t Kishor at all. He gave the impression of entering into a contract, as a trader might. If news reports are to be believed, he sought freedom to report directly to party chief Sonia Gandhi, and sought untrammeled control over party communications. When such ideas did not find favour, the consultant withdrew. It is clear he has no particular love for the Congress, and its ideas, ideology and politics. In contrast, look at the key personae in G-23. They

Haven't done a good deed, inner soul is cursing me as sinner: Aurangzeb's last 'will'

Counterview Desk The Tomb of Aurangzeb, the last of the strong Mughal emperors, located in Khuldabad, Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, has this epitaph inscribed on it: "Az tila o nuqreh gar saazand gumbad aghniyaa! Bar mazaar e maa ghareebaan gumbad e gardun bas ast" (the rich may well construct domes of gold and silver on their graves. For the poor folks like me, the sky is enough to shelter my grave).