The recent landslide in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh has taken away 46 lives with it until now. Death toll has been on the rise and this could not get worse for the people of the state. National highway 21 was closed for light vehicles from the evening of 13th August till 14th August noon. Heavy vehicles were asked to be parked at proper places like bus stands. These directions were given out by Superintendent of Police, Kullu considering the safety of the people commuting between Kullu and Mandi. People were also asked to take a diversion through Katola for traveling between the two districts.
Both Kullu as well as Mandi police have been helpful in providing necessary information about possible landslides and the precautions to be taken by the people. From sending out instructions and public notices through Facebook to being open to complaints and suggestions on platforms like Whatsapp, they are really making an effort to reach out to people.
Nonetheless, people are making sure that they drive safely on such dangerous routes during monsoons. Well, most of them are. Landslides have been occurring on a daily basis in the Himalayas, especially Himachal Pradesh, from a month now. A video, showing the sliding of rocks near Hanogi, Mandi went viral on 12th August. The reason? An alto driver tried to drive through the road at the exact time when the landslide happened, even after being warned by the crowd through shouting and whistles. The car was completely crushed and the people inside it severely injured. The sheer hurry (quite evident in the video) of reaching somewhere landed them in the hospital.
Having lived in the state and travelled through these roads most of my life, I can say this quite confidently that this would not have happened 15 years ago even with the same amount of monsoons that we are receiving this year.
In the past 15 years, tunnels have been constructed to harness hydroelectricity. Mountains are being chipped off to enable the construction of wider roads. Some tunnels are constructed to allow traffic to commute through them. One can witness pools of water inside the tunnels which are already dripping large amounts of water from above, during monsoons. Felling of trees has become extremely common in the name of development. The result is a very loose soil, ready to take down the entire mountain causing frequent falling of rocks and landslides, especially during the rainy season.
So what is actually going wrong? The necessary or unnecessary development, hurried people or nature?
Sadly, it is all of them. Himalayas didn’t receive monsoons originally. They were rainfed by retreating monsoons and western disturbances. Climate change has altered the natural cycle of rainfall in this region.
Destroying the ecological balance in the name of development is the most dangerous hazard for these mountains. 4-lane project for the roads is fast progressing on NH-21 and is taking away a lot with it apart from the natural terrain and properties of the people.
People rush through roads as if there is no tomorrow which eventually leads them towards no tomorrow. A menacing activity called a race has already taken several lives on the recently built 4-lane road near Sundarnagar. This race is conducted during midnight hours by young bike riders and car drivers, who are mostly college students. Imagine the amount of tragedies which will take place once the whole route from Chandigarh to Manali is complete under the 4-lane project. No doubt there are bound to be many more landslides in the future; bigger ones.
With the above facts and the present scenario of persisting landslides in hand, take a moment and ask yourselves, what is really going wrong?