Monday, Jan 24, 2022
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A Shortcut To Hydro Bombs

Himachal walks the tightrope to power its development with wider roads and hydel electricity at the cost of millions of trees and a reshaped topography. Are the ecological pitfalls accounted for?

A Shortcut To Hydro Bombs
A Shortcut To Hydro Bombs -

Up in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh the traffic stands at a fork. Ahead are two roads, one parading a rich promise, the other flashing ominous signs of an apocalypse. The one tailgating the political will to harness the state’s natural resources ­sustainably for economic growth has the Supreme Court’s go-ahead. The top court cleared 605 projects in the state on February 15, the green light for men in hi-vis jackets and work helmets to press forward with their equipment—shovels, bulldozers, jackhammers and dynamites for stubborn rocks and clay, and chainsaws for millions of trees standing on the way. There are dams to be built to extract electricity; there are roads to be widened for lorry convoys to efficiently ship apples and fruits of labour of farmers in far-flung valleys and hillsides to markets in the nation’s ravenous plains. There is money to be made. The ancient rocks and their sentinel deodars and pines are roadblocks in cold projections of political-economists. But not for environment experts, the rocks and trees are the foundation of the ecosystem that is as fragile as a man against a bullet. And so, signs on the other road betray perils of man’s quest to tame nature—the glacial burst at Chamoli in neighbouring Uttarakhand is the latest grim reminder.

All that is not lost on chief minister Jai Ram Thakur. “We have the environmental concerns in mind. These projects are important for development, creating new facilities and meeting public demand. After the Uttarakhand tragedy, I have told the officers to study the safety of all hydel projects and dams, and ensure periodic monitoring. The glaciers are receding fast in the Himalayan region. That too must be kept in mind,” he said after welcoming the top court’s order allowing the ­projects, environmental clearances granted under forest conservation and rights laws. Some of these projects involve building new bus stands, colleges, sewerage treatment plants, cowsheds, and bridges—unlikely to threaten the ecology. But what about cutting trees and scrapping the mountainside to build a Rs-150-crore Shiv Dham in the ancient and archaeologically significant town of Mandi, the CM’s home district? The plan is to build a replica of the 12 Jyotirlingas dedicated to Shiva and a helipad has come up already next to the green hillside chosen for the dham.

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