Himachal Pradesh has not yet recovered from the devastation caused by the heavy rains in July that it has been engulfed again by natural disasters. The death toll related to rain and cloudbursts continues to rise.

Heavy rains have caused widespread destruction due to landslides in Shimla's Summer Hill, Krishna Nagar, and Phagli. A Shiva temple in Summer Hill was hit by landslides.

Eight houses have been reduced to rubble and about 15 houses have been evacuated due to landslides in the Krishna Nagar area. In this month, 74 people have been killed so far in the last three days of rain.

Considering the seriousness of the situation, all schools and colleges in the state were closed. Himachal Pradesh University suspended teaching till August 19.

According to the State Disaster Response Force, around 800 roads in the state have been severely damaged, including the Chandigarh-Shimla, Kiratpur-Manali, Pathankot-Mandi, and Dharamshala-Shimla National Highways. This year, 327 people have died in the monsoon season since June 24, 1762 houses were completely destroyed and 8952 houses were partially destroyed.

During this period, 113 landslides and 58 cloudbursts incidents have occurred. The Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu said that it will take a year to rebuild the infrastructure damaged by rain.

He said that during the month of July and the second week of August there has been a loss of around Rs. 10,000 crore. The Chief Minister also said that this year due to more than average rainfall, there is a lot of damage.

It cannot be denied that the state has received above average rainfall this year. The state receives an average of 730 mm of rain from June 1 to September 30, but this year it has received 742 mm of rain from June 1 to August 16.

It is not right to blame heavy rains alone for the disaster in Himachal Pradesh. Humans, not nature, are responsible for phenomena such as continuous sliding of mountains and soil, landslides on roads, collapsing of houses and buildings, and subsidence of roads.

The major causes of destruction in Himachal Pradesh are four-laning roads, hydro-power projects, deforestation, cable car projects, and multi-storied buildings. Himachal Pradesh is nestled in the lap of the Himalayan mountains. It is important to get the opinion of geologists, environmental experts, and local people before any development project is undertaken here.

Nature has given abundant beauty to Himachal Pradesh. Its mountains, diverse flora, and cool climate attract tourists from far off places. Taking advantage of this natural beauty, the government of Himachal Pradesh started building four-lane roads to promote it as a tourist destination.

To build these roads, heavy machinery and explosive materials were used to cut the mountains, due to which the natural balance of the place has started to deteriorate. As a result, the mountains have started sliding down from place to place.

Forests have to be cut down before the mountain can be broken for any kind of development work in the hilly areas. Due to the absence of forests, the soil starts to erode. Due to over-cutting of mountains and soil erosion, mountains begin to slide down, resulting in loss of life and property.

Nowadays, many towns of Himachal Pradesh such as Shimla, Manali, Dharamshala, Mandi and some others come under the grip of so-called economic development and are hit by heavy rains as well as other natural disasters like flash floods and landslides. Since the construction of four-lane roads in Himachal Pradesh, the incidence of landslides has been increasing every year. In 2020 there were only 16 landslides, in 2021 the number increased to 100, and in 2022 to 117.

Apart from the four-lane roads, the hydropower projects in Himachal Pradesh are also increasing the depth of natural disasters. The Himdhara Environment Research and Action Collective has conducted a study on the impacts of hydropower projects.

According to this study, among all the Himalayan states of India, Himachal Pradesh has the fastest pace and magnitude of hydropower development. There are 53 hydropower projects planned in Kinnaur district, 17 of these projects are big. Out of 53 projects of various capacities, 15 are already operational.

In 2021, the people of Kinnaur strongly opposed the installation of the Jhangi Tapovan Powari hydro-electricity project due to the adverse effects of these projects on the environment.

After the construction of Parwanoo-Shimla four-lane road, the number of tourists in Shimla is continuously increasing. Many multi-storied hotels are being built to accommodate tourists.

In the greed of higher earnings, business people have also built buildings in places where earlier there were seasonal rain drains or where rain water was collected naturally. The Shiva temple at Summer Hill was built on the banks of the Barsati Nala and Krishna Nagar is also situated on the Bawadi.

Himachal Pradesh also falls in the seismic zone. The Indian and Arabian plates are constantly pushing India towards the European plate due to which there is a constant threat of major earthquakes from the north-western region of Jammu and Kashmir to the north-eastern region of Mizoram.

Apart from this, the glaciers from the Himalayan mountains are melting rapidly due to the rise in temperature. Glacial lakes are forming in the mountains, due to which Himachal Pradesh may also experience an incident similar to the 2021 tragedy in Uttarakhand's Chamoli.

The British made Shimla the summer capital of India in 1864 during British rule. The city could easily meet the needs of a population of only 16,000 people. Moving forward in the race for economic development, the Himachal Pradesh government has given permission to erect multi-storied buildings in the form of hotels here, encouraging the tourism industry, disregarding the limited natural resources here.

The population of Shimla increased to 1,69,578 in 2011 which is estimated to be 2,32,000 in 2023. To address the problems of Shimla's growing population, the state government has planned to build four satellite towns (Gandal, Faggu, Naldehra, and Chamiyana) and one counter-magnet town.

According to the fifth and sixth reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due to the increase in the global average temperature, the Himalayan states in the north, and the coastal states in the South will be more affected by natural disasters.

According to a report by The Geological Survey of India, Himachal Pradesh has identified 17,120 landsliding zones. These sites have been found in the districts of Sirmaur, Lahaul and Spiti, Mandi, Kinnaur, Kangra, Shimla, Solan, Bilaspur, Una, Chamba, Hamirpur, and some others. In many places in Himachal Pradesh, incidents of land subsidence are also coming to light like Joshimath in Uttarakhand.

The Himachal Pradesh government should not give permission for any development project in the state without taking the opinion of geologists, environmental experts, and local people. In order to save the natural beauty of Himachal Pradesh, the state government here should maintain the old roads properly and make them passable instead of constructing four-lane roads.

The number of tourists coming to the hilly towns should also be determined so that hotels are constructed there according to the capacity of the hilly areas. The government of Himachal Pradesh should also make arrangements to provide convenient public transport for tourists.

By doing this, multi-storied buildings will not have to be built to park vehicles. Before constructing any building, the area should be examined by geologists and permission to construct the building should be given on their recommendation.

Instead of constructing multi-storied buildings for tourists, to protect the beauty of the hilly areas and the lives and property of people there, the state government by following the slogan "Himachal Ka Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai" can save the environment as well as increase the income of the people.

The government of Himachal Pradesh should also install hydropower projects in the state according to the environmental capacity of the state. If environmental protection is not given attention even now, then Himachal Pradesh may be hit hard by natural disasters.

Dr Gurinder Kaur is a former professor, Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala. views expressed are the writer’s own.