Himachal floods explained: a man-made disaster?
The real test in Himachal will be whether the government can assure compliance while also adapting development goals to the region’s unique ecosystem.
Himachal Pradesh has had a catastrophic monsoon season. The constant rain and consequent floods, combined with landslides, have wreaked havoc on public infrastructure on an unparalleled scale. The losses are projected to be in excess of Rs 12,000 crore. Already under financial strain, the state is now looking for cash to complete the massive task at hand: rehabilitating 3,000 households whose homes were washed away, as well as restoring devastated roads, bridges, drinking water and irrigation projects, and hydel power plants. The state has received barely 600 crore from the national disaster fund corpus thus far. That explains Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu’s desperate request to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to designate the Himachal floods a national disaster, similar to the 2013 Kedarnath calamity, in order for the state to receive a larger share of central assistance. To that purpose, he has also urged that the disaster relief manual’s help criteria be altered.
While the Centre is yet to rule on Himachal’s appeal, CM Sukhu made a wider, and more crucial, point in an interview with this publication on Monday: The man-made variables that exacerbated a rain-induced disaster, as well as the lessons the state should learn. The complete disregard for structural engineering and the load-bearing capacity of soil strata while building buildings on mountainous terrain and in the bed of nullahs and rivers insured that floods would be extremely expensive. Himachal Pradesh has officially prohibited construction on 45-degree inclines and hill slicing for private development. The true test will be whether the authorities can assure compliance. The administration’s job is also to tailor development goals to the region’s unique ecosystem.