Nature is teaching us a lesson, classes have begun

For the first time in 18 years, Avay Shukla had to buy water from water tankers for his village home in Purani Koti, and that's just the start

Forest fire near Solan, Himachal Pradesh (photo: Pankaj Khullar, IFS, retd)
Forest fire near Solan, Himachal Pradesh (photo: Pankaj Khullar, IFS, retd)

Avay Shukla

One is never too old to learn a lesson or two about life. I found that out this month, the lesson being that you can try to run away from the effects of climate change, but you cannot hide from it: it will get you, sooner than you think.

We ran away, as is our usual drill, from the heat, water shortage, power outages of the NCR to our place in Purani Koti in April-end. Amidst the dense forests, flowing nullahs and quiet of the village, we thought, we could put climate change behind us for a few months.

How wrong I was! The forests are dry as tinder, afire in many places; the nullahs no longer flow; the sun beats down on us like a physical force. For the first time in 18 years, ever since I built my cottage here, I am having to buy water from water tankers! Even though we get water from a government scheme and I have a 25,000-litre rooftop water harvesting tank.

The problem is that the water sources of the former scheme have almost dried up, and there has been no rain for the last six weeks to fill the water harvesting tank. There has been hardly any winter snow here for the last two years, and all the underground aquifers have been depleted, the rainfall pattern has also altered.

Earlier, we used to get a locally-induced shower every three or four days, but now we are dependent, it would appear, on the north-westerly disturbances emanating from the Caspian Sea. Whatever happened to our micro-climate, I wonder. 

A traffic snarl in Manali
A traffic snarl in Manali

The lesson is writ large on the burning forests, the dried up streams and kuhls, the unbelievable temperatures in Una and Hamirpur rivalling those of Chandigarh and Gurgaon. But, like a student with an attention-deficit disorder, our state government will just not learn it.

It carries on with its business-as-usual policies, it continues to level the mountains and slaughter thousands of trees for airports which are not needed, build four-lane highways which devastate the mountains, and whose muck chokes the rivers, approve more hydel projects which are environmentally disastrous.

The chief minister has announced that he wants to double tourist arrivals, from 20 million a year to 50 million! Is he smoking Malana hash, I wonder. Our infrastructure and natural landscapes are already crumbling under the onslaught of the existing 20 million tourists; one cannot even visualise the devastation that will be necessary to accommodate another 30 million — just their potable water requirements will amount to 3 billion litres per day

A June 2021 report quoting Himachal Pradesh Police states that 18,370 tourist vehicles enter the state every day; even these numbers have made a mess of the traffic in every single town of the state. The Atal tunnel near Manali recorded 20,000 vehicles a day passing through it this year. Can one imagine the state of affairs if all these numbers were to be doubled, which is the chief minister's fond wish?

Mountains on fire (photo: Pankaj Khullar, IFS, retd)
Mountains on fire (photo: Pankaj Khullar, IFS, retd)

The fate of the Himalayan states can be seen, even as I write this, in what is happening to the Char Dham yatra: the lakhs of people stranded for days on the Gangotri-Yamunotri-Kedarnath routes: the mountains just cannot bear these numbers any longer.

The blame has to be shared by an ecocidal government ramming through the four-lane Char Dham highway in a fragile mountain system, as well as by brainwashed urbanites, riding high on SUV-driven religiosity, unmindful of the consequences to Nature. Himachal should learn from all this, before it's too late.

Smell the smoke of the forest fires, sir, and the stench from the dry nullahs filled with plastic waste and human refuse. Learn from countries which are putting the health of their natural landscapes and ecology over tourist dollars. Stop the felling of trees, the cutting of mountains, the unnecessary building of roads, airports, not-so-smart cities, the damming up of rivers and streams.

The cumulative effect of all these hare-brained policies is what is imparting a local impact to the global phenomenon of climate change. Do a course correction while you still can. Concentrate instead on protecting your forests, implement water harvesting schemes on a war footing in both urban areas and forests, limit tourist numbers to a sustainable level, bring back the micro-climate which nurtured the state, climate-proof the sustainability of your eco-systems.

Show some vision beyond defeating Kangana Ranaut in the elections. Make your money by protecting your natural ecology and assets, not by destroying them.

Or be prepared to be taught a lesson by Nature. The classes have already begun.

Avay Shukla is a retired IAS officer and author of Disappearing Democracy: Dismantling of a Nation and other works. He blogs at

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