Alarming rise in flash floods and deforestation in Himachal

PALAMPUR: The forests in Himachal Pradesh not only contribute in maintaining the ecological balance but also play a significant role in the economic development of the state. In Himachal Pradesh forests provide physical sustenance to the fragile Eco-system and also act as a source of precious raw material for rural and industrial application.According to the forest policy of the state, till yesterday the forests were no more a source of revenue and supply of raw material. The government was lying emphasis on the protection and conservation of forests. The state government has imposed complete ban on the green felling in the state. Besides, the state government had made forest laws more stringent to check the illicit felling , deal with smugglers and poachers in the state. The state government had allowed only the removal of dead, diseased and decaying trees and had salvaged lots from the forests to meet the requirements the masses. However, the extraction of herbs had been allowed only on selective basis.dsc00313.JPG  dsc00252.JPG
But the setting of cement plants and execution of over two dozen major power projects in the state have posed serious threats to the existence of many forest lands. According to a recent survey conducted by a NGO dealing with the “ protection of environment” has termed the situation in the state alarming, it has revealed that Himachal Pradesh is fast loosing its forest cover and in past five years over ten thousands precious trees were axed in the state for the setting up of power projects and other construction activities. Survey revealed that Kulu, Solan, Bilaspur and Shimla districts of state are the worst affected where hundreds of acres of land has gone barren because of reckless felling of trees by power projects and cement plants. Today the flash floods, land slides and sinking of land has become quite common. Every year thousands of persons were being killed because of flash floods and land slides in the state. Besides, the state was facing losses to the tune of rupees 1000 crores every because of flash floods and land slides in the state. Shimla and Kulu districts are worst hit.

It is surprising that the state government had failed to initiate action against the defaulter companies. In Kulu, Kangra and Shimla districts, a private companies axed over five thousand threes without obtaining any permission from the state government but the state government agencies remained a silent spectators and iniitated action when the trees had already fell down. dsc00311.JPGdsc00312.JPG Though the power projects and cement plants being set up in state will give an additional revenue to the state but at the same time these projects have become a major environmental hazards. The recurring loss caused to the state’s forest wealth by these project could not be compensated in any way. The companies executing the projects have failed to follow the norms fixed by Apex Court and union ministry of forest and environment. There is no stress for new plantations.

The situation has gone to this extent that in the present circumstances the State Pollution Control Board has become non- existent. Various companies executing the projects and setting up cement plants even do not bother to reply the notices issued by the board. If no serious efforts are made to save the precious forest wealth of the state, one day state will loose its total forest cover. Increasing political interference in the functioning of forest department has made the matter worse.

It is on record that Nathpa Jahkri and other Power Projects set up on Sutlej river have virtually played havoc with the nature. Thousands of trees have been cut in Sutlej valley for the setting up of housing colonies and roads for this projects. Tons of silt have been dumped in the river sutlej and ultimately the entire silt has flown to Bhakra reservoir. Likewise, silt and other material extracted from tunnels of power projects being executed in Kulu valley have also been thrown into river Beas. Similar will be the situation in Kol Dam Project being executed on river sutlej near Bilaspur by NTPC. In this project too no provisions have been made for the disposal of silt and stones to be extracted from tunnels. Continuous flow of silt to Bhakhra and Pong reservoirs has been reducing their lives.

In papers, in Himachal Pradesh the area under forest, totals 37,591 sq. km., of which only 11,780 sq. km. Is under tree plantation, that is less than one third of the state’s total area. The economists in 1995, has put the total value of the state,s . forest wealth at RS. 39,000 crore. It is evident from the various surveys and studies conducted by the government and non governmental agencies, that the drive for plantation for more trees in the state has failed to gain momentum in past ten years. The state has planted trees only on papers and there is nothing worthwhile on the earth. Even the survival percentage of saplings have come down. In number of divisions the survival percentage was recorded between 20 to 30 percent which is quite low.

State government has failed to understand that the growing population has led to disastrous over use of forests for fuel wood and timber under TD in past two decades. There has been manifold increase in the requirement of fuel wood in the state, it has increased to the tune of two lakh tons valued at RS 160 crore per year.

Likewise we are also exploiting grazing material worth rupees 500 crore every year.. Our forests are already under great stress, therefore there is no justification for the state government to grant permission for felling of trees on large scale for the setting up of power projects and cement plants.

Though the government of India revised the forest policy in 1988, its main objective was the conservation, protection and development of forest in the country. Besides, the much stress was laid to minimize the burden of the fuel wood and other local requirements on the forests. But in the absence of political will our governments failed to implement the policy in its letter and spirit

Our country has 752.3. lakh hectares area notified as forests. That is 19.47 percent of the total geographical area of the nation. This brings the per capita area to meager 0.088 hectare lowest in the world. In fact only 50 percent of the total forest areas is under tree cover and remaining 50% is in various stages of degradation. The same is the situation in Himachal Pradesh. Long back in 1952, the forest policy had stressed for bringing 33 percent areas of the state under forest cover. But after a gap 50 years, still the picture in Himachal Pradesh is dismal. The natural forests are being destroyed at rate faster than nature or what man can regenerate. It is on record that our country has been loosing the forest cover at the rate 1.3 million hectare every year which would be proved fatal in the near future. The experts feel that the government who ruled the state have to understand these important aspects while permitting to the power companies to set up projects here.

A senior journalist from Palampur.

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