Economics of the Himalayas

At the onset I must confess, that I am not a student of economics and do not know a thing about the subject. But the reader must be wondering, ‘then why write about such a topic!’ Yes, you guessed it right. But I am writing because I have spent a major part of my youth, wandering in the Himalayas. I have seen the luxuriant forests of Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. During the same time I also saw the forest being brutally hacked to make space for the power transmission lines or roads or to construct the house of an influential person on a hill slope, where construction is prohibited. There are scores of examples to testify these, but I will prefer to write something else first.

The forces of the nature are active everywhere. Anything exposed to atmosphere is prone to weathering, erosion and denudation. For example a high rise building on a coast is exposed to salt laden high velocity winds that corrode the surfaces of the buildings, requiring them to be painted frequently. The cost of which, goes on escalating every year. Now imagine the Himalayas. Compared to them, a high rise building is puny little thing.

While the nature’s forces merely corrode the buildings, the faces of the Himalayas are prone to weathering of all kinds. For example, winds hit them hard, glaciers freeze and thaw the rocks water erodes them and carries the material in the streams. The eroded material in a glacial country is huge in quantity and of sizes varying from finest mud to giant (giant beyond imagination!) boulders. The fine mud/silt on the floor of the valley is constantly soaked with water, as the glacier melt keeps flowing discreetly under it. The glaciers are above the tree line, hence there are no roots to hold the mountain slopes. If it rains, then water just gushes down, carrying anything that comes on way, whether it is a rock or a house.

The rivers in the plains look very serene, quiet and appear very gentle. But the same river in its upstream region is a roaring mass of water hurtling down. Sit near a roaring stream after Sunset and shut your eyes and try to listen. The noise of water sounds like ‘hurrahs of victorious soldiers returning home after defeating an enemy.’ Will a river, of such might spare any lose material within its reach? Never, it will rather enfold it in its arms and sweep it off the floor and roll it for kilometers at a stretch. Consequently all angularities of the rock boulder are rounded off.

The egoistic humans should take a lesson from these boulders that, nothing in this world remains the same. These round boulders as they travel further and farther collide with each other and get crushed to smaller sized particles like sand.

With the illegal sand mining in the news these days, I need not Google the economic value of this river sand. The reader is intelligent enough to visualize the cost economics − as it is the sand mafia that controls the politics these days.

The next most important and most precious our Himalayas host are the valuable trees. For a forest lessee trees are nothing but timber. For him, their cost is in terms of timber value only. But ask me − the value is immense. Firstly, the forests when hacked take 100 years to regrow the canopy they had. I am sure that the forest lessee actively and legally involved in cutting trees for his bread and butter is going to live that long! But here the emphasis is more on the illegal forest mafia, who hack any tree − like the men on the prowl to pick up and rape a girl of any age. They do not spare even the infants. Likewise the illegal hackers hack anything that is wood. They do not know or may be do not even want to know that the forests of the Himalayas in terms of carbon sequestration can hold carbon worth Rs. 943 billion in one year. But when someone is bent upon doing a crime, such finer points of economics and the long term significance of carbon sequestration do not appeal him at all.

Apart from this, the trees hold the mountain slopes in place. Since the nature’s agencies are constantly at work, some amount of debris is being produced round the clock, day in and day out. It is for these trees that much of it remains at one place. Portions of mountain slopes rendered bereft of trees are prone to landslides and what is the might of these landslides is now an open secret after the gross tragedy in Uttarakhand.

Landslides cause misery in the mountains. But their impact is long ranging, as the debris they dump in the rivers is transported to the plains and this extra load disrupts the entire river hydraulics. Because of this many times the rivers swell in the plains and lots of human lives are lost in the floods thereafter. Hectare after hectares of agriculture land is also often lost in these floods, apart from the property.

In order to develop the Himalayas in a sustainable manner the government should:

  1. Promote low cost erosional control measures like geotextiles, plantations etc.

  2. Develop early warning systems for disasters like Landslides and flash floods and have quick response teams stationed strategically to help and rescue in time of need. In the recent mishap in Uttarakhand such teams reached the spots a trifle late.

  3. Create centers of information-specially about landslides and their causes and also guide people in selecting landslide safe sites for construction of houses.

  4. Create more protected areas to conserve wild life and flora as well. Promotion of plantation and horticulture will also be of great help.

  5. Above all the society must be made aware of the significance of environment and eco-friendly ways of construction of houses, judicious use of water resources.

During the recent mishap in Uttarakhand the loss in terms of money has been colossal. The loss of human lives is an irreparable, but that apart the parts of forests lost due to landslides is equally high. The landslides cannot be wished away-but at least the government can develop a better drainage in vulnerable areas to circumvent the larger loss due to natural hazards.

Images (c) Gettyimages.com


More by :  V. K. Joshi (Bijji)

Top | Environment

Views: 3505      Comments: 3

Comment Landslides and the disaster in the Himalayas can be managed professionally. What we need is the will and State machinery to have a vision, short term and long term plan for economic development which is sustainable. When I speak of long term plan it implies a twenty year period and not five year plans of the Planning Commission of Government of India. Socio- economic issues of people in the hills needs careful analysis, bio- diversity of the region needs to be kept in mind since it is the resource that attracts travellers apart from the religion as a factor. Managing such diversity requires very detailed and professional approach, though available within the country, vested interests are keeping these out of the loop while planning. The day we rectify this problem, I am confident that we can contain the damages that occur within manageable limits. Accidents can and will happen, how we deal with it is what is relevant.
Dr. Ajit N Jha

Dr. Ajit Nath Jha
04-Jan-2014 16:04 PM

Comment Thanks for your positive comments Nandita. Yes I agree, in the matter of environment solutions what applies for the Himalaya can not hold good for Deserts, what is good for a population of 10000 cannot be of help for a population of one million and what is practical for cultivation of rice will be useless for grapes.
We believe in importing techniques, instead of applying our own minds.

VK Joshi
20-Aug-2013 23:44 PM

Comment Namaste Sir,

I completely favour your point of launching awareness program. The less powerful persons some times keep mum as they feel lack of support system. They feel the person who has attained knowledge in foreign university knows more than them, without realising that these foriegn educated get blindfolded due to intentional teachings which they get there.

18-Aug-2013 22:30 PM

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