When the rains come ruining…

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THIS monsoon season, thus far, has witnessed unprecedented flash floods in the Himalayan region. Cloud bursts followed by heavy torrential rains have caused havoc across many Himalayan states in the country. Unusual as it is, the neighboring states in the plains too have witnessed heavy rains and cloudbursts. Punjab has been hit badly by the floods and incessant rains have flooded the national capital also.

Since 1968, 17 major flash floods have occurred in the Himalayan states which include Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Assam and West Bengal. Interesting data on flash floods shows that 13 out of the total 17 flash floods occurred after 2000. Around 2100 people have lost their lives in these floods and properties have been massively damaged in the course of flash floods.

In the recent flash floods, many parts of Himachal Pradesh took a very heavy toll on properties. Even huge buildings were seen crumbling. In the Kashmir Valley, the flash floods in the forests are occurring more frequently since the last many years.

Experts and environmentalists attribute the frequent recurrence of flash floods in the Himalayan states to the growing incidents of wildfires. According to them, the intense forest fires are a major reason for the rise in flash floods in the Himalayan region over the past 20 years. Data shows that more than 35,000 hectares of tree cover has been lost to wildfires in the Himalayas between 2001 and 2021.

More frequent heatwaves are also seen as reason for major flash floods. There is a growing sense among the ecologists and environmentalists that forest governance is poor in the Himalayan states. Perhaps, the infrastructural development is the priority for any government and genuinely so. We always keep crying about poor amenities and infrastructural development. There is tremendous pressure on the governments on improving physical and social infrastructures.

Under the Forest Conservation Rules 2003 amended in 2022, clearance for developmental activities in forest areas are sent to a steering committee comprising divisional forest officers, district collectors, conservator of forests, chief conservator of forests and State nodal officers – each of whom shall   examine the details. This, however, is for private persons. The government projects are cleared by the Forest Advisory Committee of the Jammu and Kashmir Administration.

Without going into details on the veracity of such clearances, the fact remains that developmental activities in the ecologically fragile forest areas is regarded third important cause of the flash floods. There are many other attributing factors to such devastating forest floods.

Taking into account the reoccurrence of flash floods, the Jammu and Kashmir government should regulate the ongoing Shri Amarnath Yatra more strictly, and aged persons and those with physical ailments, should not be allowed to undertake the yatra through the difficult terrains.

 

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