The Uttarakhand flash flood disaster has given rise to concerns over hydel power projects in another hill state, Himachal Pradesh, where residents of Lahaul-Spiti are protesting against their construction in the ecologically fragile Chenab river basin. A panchayat meeting was held after the Chamoli mishap, with locals passing a resolution against the proposed projects and chalking out a campaign to spread awareness about their ill-effects. There have also been allegations that the projects are being set up indiscriminately at the expense of the environment.
Reconciling environmental concerns with development goals has always been a major challenge. The hill states, with their unique terrain, are more susceptible to natural disasters because of the geological processes involved. Landslides and cloudbursts take place with regularity. Therefore, ensuring growth and economic development in remote and less accessible areas have always been fraught with risks. Studies have shown that in Himachal, the count of glacial lakes is increasing downstream of the Sutlej, along which are located some of the biggest hydel power projects. Himachal has seen flash floods in the Sutlej and the formation of a lake in the Spiti river basin. Considering the limited capacity of the dams to hold water, the threat only gets aggravated. Though the state recently saw the completion of the Atal Tunnel, an engineering marvel of great strategic significance, a similar approach is needed for other projects too.
Natural disasters can strike despite the best of efforts, but preparedness can help minimise the damage. Governments have to be cautious in allocating power projects and also ensure constant monitoring of glaciers with plans for early warning and evacuation in place. Climate change is a major worry causing as it does glacial melts resulting in massive water discharge in the rivers. With the hill states also being of strategic importance, ensuring proper management of water resources is important because of implications from economic, general well-being and security perspectives. Water sustains the ecosystem and its careful regulation is needed to curb natural disasters.