Heavy Snowfall in Himachal, Villagers Suffer


The week January 4-January 11 has seen heavy snowfall in many parts of Himachal Pradesh. This led to a heavy rush of tourists from plain areas. Newspapers reported nearly 60,000 arrivals in just Manali and Shimla during the later part of the week. Several hotels which had been reporting low business had to insist on advance bookings and over 90 per cent occupancy was reported from several other hotels. Many photos and videos of tourists having fun in snow were circulating.

While no one would grudge them their joy, at the same time it is important to draw attention to the many serious problems faced by ordinary people, especially those living in the more remote villages, particularly as these problems have been becoming a rather regular part of heavy snowfall in recent times. These people faced very serious problems of water and electricity shortage apart from becoming exposed to the threat of several risks and hazards.

Various newspapers reported on January 11 that nearly 2300 electricity transformers were not functioning and nearly 240 water supply schemes were disrupted in the state. Thus in the bitterly cold weather people in a very large number of villages did not have the benefit of electricity and were plunged in darkness. Many villagers had to melt snow to get drinking water as water in pipes, taps and other sources had frozen.People in some villages complained that the situation had worsened to this extent because their suggestion for underground laying of pipes was not followed. Several water  supply schemes had stopped functioning. Even the supply to the capital of Shimla was disrupted as water could not be lifted due to higher silt and turbidity as well as disruption of electricity supply. Some hotels also complained that now that they were getting enough guests, they had difficulty in getting water and ensuring regular electricity supply. Of course still their condition was several times better than that of remote villages.

Similarly newspapers reported on January 11 that nearly 770 roads of the state including six highways were blocked due to heavy snowfall and landslides. Earlier it was reported that nearly 120 buses had been stopped due to heavy snowfall at various places creating a lot of problems for stranded passengers. Even the most important highway Kalka –Shimla saw several disruptions. In particular the huge boulder which rolled over to the highway near Koti created quite a scare. It was so huge that a single stone covered almost half the width of the road. People shuddered to think of what would have happened if a bus had been hit by this. Although heavy machines were available yet the boulder could not be removed and had to be broken into several parts on the road before the road could be cleared. Smaller stones rained down at several stretches of the highway which has become very prone to landslides after the hills had been cut in unscientific ways for highway widening and and thousands of trees were also axed.

Some reports pointed out that the number of village paths which had been buried under stone was even more. Several paths had become extremely slippery. There were several reports of people dying or getting injured in accidents and landslides. In particular the death of five members of a single family when a car slipped in snow to fall into a 700 feet deep gorge in Shimla district resulted in a wave of distress.

An avalanche in Lahaul valley near Rashael village proved to be quite scary and soon warnings of other such disasters and snow-slides at several other points were also issued. The flow of Chandra river was blocked by a landslide for some time, according to other reports, resulting in another scare.

While people in most remote parts were the worst affected by such risks and hazards, tourists also could not completely escape the resulting problems as several of them had to wait for hours on landslide affected and traffic jam affected roads in icy weather conditions. In fact local authorities had to act with urgency to rescue nearly 50 stranded tourists.

All this is not to deny tht snowfall can be very beautiful and a source of great joy for tourists, but only to provide a more balanced view of the situation that arises in times of heavy snowfall and to plead that greater attention should be given to reducing the problems and risks of remote villages.

Bharat Dogra is Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Vimla and Sunderlal Bahuguna—Chipko Movement and the Struggle Against Tehri Dam.


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