Global warming, Himachal could spell disaster for India

him21.jpgPALAMPUR: The continuous drought conditions and failure of monsoon for the past three consecutive years in Himachal Pradesh, has resulted in a loss of over rupees 200 crores to the state every. Besides, flash floods in the state had damaged property worth rupees 1000 crores. The apple, potatoes and other off season vegetable crops playing significant role in the economy of the state have also been adversely affected.

This hill state had faced the worst ever drought conditions last year. In last monsoon the state has recorded very low rain fall as compared to the previous years. In the absence of adequate rain fall in the catchments areas of rivers Beas and Sutlej, the water level in Govindsagar and Pong Dams of the state also remained very low adversely affecting the power generation in Pong and Bhakhra power houses of state during winters. There was also no rain during winters in the state. The state experienced last rain fall of monsoon in first week of September 2002 and after that there was virtually no rains for four months.

Higher reaches in the state had little or no snow fall this year. The experts working on water harvesting system in the state are of the view that in the absence of snow on the high hills, the rivers like Sutlej, Beas and Yamuna will also go dry in the coming summers as the melting of snow in the hills will be over by the middle of May. Farmers and fruit growers have no other alternative except to change the crop pattern.

As various national and international agencies have already cautioned the Himachal Pradesh government that the five major glaciers located in Kinnaur bordering Tibet and in Lahual and Spiti areas of state are melting with fast speed for the past five years because of impacts of global warming. The state government should take it very seriously and precautionary measures should be taken up to check the eco imbalances. A study conducted by Industrial & Technological experts of union government in this field reveals that most disturbing global environmental problems today is the steady and long term increase in atmospheric concentrations of so –called green-house gases such as carbon dioxide , methane, nitrogen and chlorofluorocarbons (CFC). The substantial increases or decreases in greenhouse gases are likely to induce climate changes within a matter of decades, with possibly devastating consequences for several countries and India will be worst effected. It is also reported that the world energy system is responsible for more than half the anthropogenic gas emissions. As such the majority of the emissions are due to fossil fuel use, representing about 75 % of the total energy use .

The state government in assistance with various private companies have taken up execution of 60 power projects in the state and some of them are likely to be completed by the end of this year. Though this is a good beginning for the state but no studies have been conducted on the “Evaluation of Environmental Implications” and incorporation of necessary safeguards for the activities having a bearing on environmental quality. The state has also totally overlooked the roll of natural resources in the execution of these projects. The state government has given stress for technical feasibility and economic returns from these projects but low priority has been given for minimum environmental degradation and prevention of long term environmental side effects. No study has been conducted on the fast melting of glaciers in the state so far. Despite repeated warning from several environmental organization state is a silent spectator.

A Pune based NGO working in this field say that the main reason for sudden change in rain pattern in Himachal, is attributed to the reckless and unscientific mining, quarrying combined with construction of big power projects, cement plants, roads and buildings. The say that illegal mining and quarrying in the state has been going on unchecked for the past many years which further contributed to the environmental imbalances. The installation of two major cement plants the state have further deteriorated the situation. The dust, smoke and silt coming out of these plants has become a major environmental hazard. Besides, over five thousand trucks working in these plants have also become heavy source of pollution.

The study also revealed that because of environmental imbalances over 50000 hectares of land has very seriously been affected by mining and other construction activities. The large scale destruction of state’s forest wealth by illegal and legal mining have resulted in severe drought and flash floods in past few years. The report based on this study says that the Kinnaur, Solan, Shimla and Bilaspur districts which fall in the catchments areas of Sutlej are the worst affected where reckless mining has played a havoc with nature. The report has cautioned the state government as well as Union government with serious consequences if timely measure are not taken to check the environmental hazard.

The report has put question mark on the future of Bhakhra and Pong dams built at very high cost since no steps has been taken in past for large scale energy plantation in the catchments areas of rivers Sutlej and Beas as recommended by various government and non government agencies. Its capacity to hold water is falling year after year because of heavy siltation caused by destruction of forest, mining and other activities in its catchments areas. Unless these activities are stopped a large scale of silt would continue to flow into these dams every year. The report says that the bed of both the dams have risen by four to five meters and nearly three times more sediments had flowed into these dams reducing the life to one third.

The report expressed concern that even the directions of Apex Court were kept aside and no action was initiated by the government in this regard. It may be recalled that construction of over one dozen small and big hydel projects are going on in the catchments areas of these two rivers and entire mud, silt and sand in tons is being flown to the rivers daily.

It is an open fact that the Himachal Pradesh government has no environment policy, therefore construction activities on the hills and other mass movements have caused irreparable loss to human environment. Sutlej Valley falling between Kinnaur and Bilaspur regions which at one time used to be covered with green forest and was rich in flora and fauna have gone barren because of reckless mining, construction of big power projects and cement plants. In Beas valley falling between Manali and Mandi, large scale destruction of forests have been reported in past fifteen years.

It is most unfortunate that state government, owners of the cement plants and other power project companies in the state are hands in glove, therefore all restrictions imposed by the environmentalists are over ruled just to grant favors to these big industrial houses. Files dealing with such cases move fast in the state government It is an open fact that despite stiff opposition from various environmental groups and media, two years ago the state government granted sanction to one of the cement plants to axe 10000 trees to facilitate the extraction of lime stone from forests. The rampant corruption in state government have further deteriorated the situation.

It is on record that the state government has been facing a grave situation and has suffered losses worth crore of rupees, it seems still it has not learnt any lesson. Still it has given nod for setting up of two more cement plants in Chamba and Mandi districts recently. Besides, it has also granted lease to a big industrial house to extract lime stone from Arki tehsil of Solan district for commercial use and carry it to outside the state. If these three plants are installed in the state, it would further uproot thousand of people and create environmental imbalances in 20,000 hectares of land.

The cement plants and extraction of lime stone in the state has not given much revenue to the state, rather it has caused large scale destruction of natural resources and turned the green hills into barren. It may be recalled that the cement plants have been availing complete tax holidays therefore they are getting total Income-tax as well as Sales tax exemptions causing loss of crore of rupees to the state exchequer. Even in next ten years no revenue is expected from these cement plants.

The time has come, the state government should form a strong environment policy. The present disaster created by the nature in the state should be treated as an eye opener and the environment has emerged as a question of survival of human race in this hill state. It should have to be over and above the politics.

Photo by: Calinore

A senior journalist from Palampur.

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8 Comments

  1. says: Brad Arnold

    How can the author Mr Sood blame the Himachal Pradesh government for the effects of global warming? While it may not have an environmental policy, India has a very low per person carbon footprint compared to the US or other industrialized countries. Furthermore, it is unlikely, given the extreme poverty of the region that the government could come up with a satisfactory adaptation policy. Instead, the government has appearently choosen to stress economic development to address poverty, something it has control over.

    There is one thing the Himachal Pradish government can do: accept the fact that it is very unlikely that mankind will cut their emissions so fast and drastically that abrupt climate change (like the drought), or runaway global warming will be avoided.

    The Himachal Pradish government can embrace the fact that since ocean life ended the last severe global warming episode 55 million years ago (but took tens of thousands of years to do it), we need to improve nature by seeding an extensively tested genetically modified organism into the ocean.

    Biosequestration is a low cost, technically feasible, and highly scalable method of removing CO2 from the air. If mankind doesn’t sabilize the CO2 level in the air soon, the Earth will rapidly return to the hothouse climate of 55 million years ago when most life died.

    Why should the Himachal Pradish government embrace an economic policy that denies India’s citizens prosperity? I live in America, and I live a life most people there can only dream of, and we aren’t about to sacrifice our prosperity, so why should the Himachai Pradish government??

  2. says: vikesh

    The goverment,NGO’S and people of the state,nation and world has to come together to fight global warming.Natural resources has to be protected.Though global warming has to controlled at a global level , the efforts has to be started at individual’s level.Goverment have to take leading steps and make people realise what disaster this global warming can have on the individual and their day to day life.We all are resposible for this global warming may be on a very small scale.

    How,where and what has to be told and necessary steps should be taken to start the process.Most of the developed countries has come together to fight this global warming.In india also this effirts has to be taken and process has to started now by educating people.

    It is very much expected that most people in Himachal do not know what Global warming is,its cause and effects.Lot of efforts are required to be done on this and not blaming anyone for this.

  3. says: Avnish Katoch

    Brad,

    I agree upto an extent with you. I understand India is nowhere to US or other developed nations when it comes to green house gas emissions. however with the growth India is going through its share of environmental pollution has gone up by more than 50%.

    A good article:
    http://144.16.79.155/currsci/feb102006/326.pdf

    And at the same time I am happy with the courage shown by India for not signing the Kyoto protocol as I see all this as bullying by big countries only.

    But lets no go into all this. I live in US and I am very well traveled in US and I have seen how well US has protected its own resources. I would like you to invite to visit Himachal and see first hand how haphazard development has dried our rivers and how families are displaced. Not only that, corruption is another major issue as for few thousand dollars environmental laws are broken daily! In fact government has also not come with strong environmental laws. Simple case where panchayat (local municipal body) gave “NO” to a small hydro plant, the same company went back after few months and obtained No Objection certificate. Now what all went behind the scene is another story itself.

    US has strong laws and up above that they are enforced, however India has total different scenario.

    We are not against development and in fact I don’t think any one on this planet can be, but then 15% water is supposed to be released by power companies, which never happens, 70% jobs are supposed to be given to Himachali youths, never happens.

    Up above that a good share of small hydro plants setup is supposed to go to Himachal companies but then black listed companies from rest of India are forging alliances with locals and taking their own share.

    So its kind of mess created by government itself as their own law makers and those who are supposed to enforce them are not aware of them at all. In fact they are not even ready to take outside help.

    At the same time there are other ways of development. Himachali youths are excellent in English speaking and has highest literacy rate, highest college graduates, could be best in BPO, IT and ITeS enabled industry but government is unable to bring that kind of investment. Tourism has another major potential where also unplanned development has happened and still there is lot to explore, in fact our own group and people involved are working hard to bring the right positive eco friendly high end tourist to Himachal. We can do more than hydro but alas those capabilities are not explored however with new government new ray of hope has arisen.

    Just to let you know that number of B.Techs, MCAs and other high end IT professionals available by 2009-10 for software units = 4160 (hit factor accounted for and only Himachalis considered. People from neighboring States will be additional)
    Number of other IT professionals = 15430
    Productivity per man hour USD 60 and USD 16 for the aforesaid categories (for software and ITES/ BPO).

    Realistic figure: 4160 x 0.6624 + 15430 x 0.1766 = Rs. 5480 crores or say Rs. 5000 crores**
    Or USD 1.19 Billion out of total projection of USD 50 Billion for the country
    **Assuming 8 working hours per person and 300 working days
    And these are just conservative figures.

    Beyond that no Sales Tax on IT products.

    And then Himachal is peaceful, no religious tension and people are peaceful and dedicated.

    I would like to ask government machinery what percentage of IT or ITeS based industry has been attracted to Himachal as compared to Hydro development.
    How much efforts are poured into bringing other than Hydro plants?

    That would justify many things!

  4. says: IBN Live

    Himachal’s powerful plans may bear no fruit

    Jyoti Kamal / CNN-IBN

    FRUITLESS PURSUIT: Kinnaur is a region dependent solely on the fruit to keep its economy going.

    Climate change is eating into profits of HP’s multi-crore apple industry.

    Kinnaur: Travelling along the Hindustan-Tibet Road that snakes its way up the mighty Himalayan ranges right up to the Tibetan border one sees an unexpected sight.

    Floodlit valleys, heavy construction equipment, dynamiting and blasting Hydropower companies are at work to tame the mighty Sutlej and Baspa rivers that flow through Himachal. Kinnaur is well on its way to becoming India’s power generator.

    Ironically,. its hurting the economy of Kinnuar where apple cultivation is the oldest business. For a region that is dependent solely on the fruit to keep its economy going, locals hold the mega dams responsible.

    “There is a change in the apple season as the climate is changing due to hydro power projects. There is pollution, warming and less rain when needed,” says apple orchard owner, Sanjeev Kumar.

    Across Himachal over 100 multiple projects are underway .Locals fear that these mega dams are destroying Kinnaurs fragile ecology

    Says environmental activist from Kinnaur and BSP candidate Sushil Sana, “The biggest issue is against the big projects coming up in Kinnaur. These projects are going to take on a dangerous form. Kinnaur is known for apples , but these apples are endangered due to the big projects. “

    However, the Himachal government considers power projects an absolute necessity for the financial well being of the resource starved mountain state.

    “We try and compensate them heavily for damage to land and houses so that they are not heavily opposed to the projects,” says DC Kinnaur, Sudha Devi.

    While people may not be displaced physically – the dams have caused large-scale soil erosion. Himachal sees the future of its economy being powered substantially by hydroelectric projects dotting Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti districts. But locals here wonder if the region will pay too heavy a price for the nations progress.

  5. says: IBN Live

    Global warming hits home, affects HP apple industry

    Jyoti Kamal / CNN-IBN

    HARVEST OF CHANGE: Farmers claim weather changes are affecting the apple production in Himachal.

    Kinnaur : As India debates measures to tackle global warming at the Bali summit, the problem has already hit home and is eating into the profits of the multi-crore-rupee apple industry in Himachal Pradesh.

    It’s been five decades since apple cultivation began in the Sangla Valley in Himachal Pradesh. Over the years, it has grown into a multi-crore-rupee industry. But now, the apple-growing season is changing due to subtle changes in the environment.

    The picturesque Sangla Valley in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh is considered the land of snow capped peaks and golden apples.

    Lakhs and lakhs of crates of apples are brought down to the winding roads, and are packed into trucks and taken to markets across the country, but apple growers of the region are gripped by a new kind of fear these days.

    Apple cultivator Om Negi says,”The apples, which used to flower till late October, now ripen early. This is simply because the weather is changing.”

    Farmers claim weather changes are affecting production. Some like Negi have started cultivating alternative crops. Though there’s no drop in production, officials admit the climate variations are a matter of concern.

    Deputy Commissioner Kinnaur, Sudha Devi says production has not come down. Last year it was 18 lakh boxes and this year it has been more than 20 lakh boxes, so production has not come down. But it is a major concern.

    So much so that this is now becoming political fodder in the region.

    BSP candidate, Kinnaur, Sushil Sana says, “The biggest issue we have is against the big projects coming up in Kinnaur. These projects are going to take on a dangerous form. Kinnaur is known for apples but these apples are endangered due to the big projects.”

    Things are changing in Sangla. Modernity and new dams are coming up. But the locals detect a subtle change in the environment.

    The Sangla apple season, which used to go on till mid-December is now ending in mid-November.

    Apples are still the pride of the region but what will be the long-term impact of climate change here is still unknown.

  6. says: Devendra Pirta

    Global warming is very technical issue.In nuttshell it can be said that major culprits of this problems(Carbon emission) are developed nations especially north American and European countries.however it is true that it has far reaching and global impact. in case of Himachal Pradesh, glaciers are depleating due to excessive interferance of man with nature,unscientific development proceses for maximisation of profit. Unplanned explitation of water resourecs,hapazard development of road networks and population pressure adds to the problem of climate change in Himachal. Breaching glaciers,Increasig flash floods,extreme climatic conditions, variarion in rainfall and snowfall are outcomes of this problem.I just want to add that we are living in the most fragile ecology of the world (The Himalayas) and Himalayas needs different set of treatment.Last but not the least, recent flash floods should be a wake up call to government and policy makers and they should give a serious thought for the environment conservation in the state. Otherwise days are not very far when Himachal will be listed as most disaster prone state in the country.

  7. says: Ravinder Singh Minhas

    Indiscriminate felling of trees , no environmental policy may lead Himachal into the worsen state. The Hydro Projects never given the permanent employment as claimed by Govt. , whereas these are purchasing and destroying the green wealth of HP. Current example in Distt. Mandi is
    * Patikari 16 MW Project
    * Swad 5 MW Project
    * Surah 1.5 MW Project

    We urge to their management , Please use the resources as per the capability of environment & pease of mind of local youths.

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