While the clearance given by the three-judge Green Bench of the Supreme Court to a surfeit of development schemes — including hydro and hybrid power projects — in Himachal Pradesh may be a welcome sign of judicial alacrity, the state will have to assess the limits to which it can stretch itself in the quest for development, especially in the aftermath of the Chamoli mishap. Only recently, residents of Lahaul-Spiti had protested against the setting up of hydropower projects in the area, apprehending adverse consequences after the Uttarakhand tragedy. While the court has made it clear that the diversion of forest land for the purpose is subject to conditions, it will have to be ensured that these are fulfilled so that the environmental fallout can be checked. With the rescue operation far from over in Uttarakhand, the grimness of the tragedy is only too stark a reminder for exercising caution in the implementation of such projects.
Because of its geography, Himachal Pradesh faces the dilemma of development. While tourism and horticulture have been the mainstay of its economy, the state has been trying to attract industries for which it also needs the required infrastructure. The state has immense potential for hydropower, but its cost-effectiveness and viability also need to be assessed. The incentives offered have helped in making the shift, even leading to migration of industry to Himachal from adjoining states because of the disparities. While the state has been pitching for green growth and sustainable development, it will have to tread warily when it comes to implementing the projects because of its fragile ecology.
Undertaking construction on a massive scale can have its pitfalls in the shape of soil erosion, landslides and the drying up of streams. Diversification is a corollary to saturation and the transition from agriculture to industry has to be made keeping in view the fact that growth can have its limits. Harnessing nature can lead to progress but damage to ecology can prove to be counterproductive, impacting human lives, resulting instead in locational and occupational displacement.