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HT EDIT-The impact of heatwaves is not restricted to a region

June 13, 2019 05:30 AM

COURTESY HT EDIT JUNE 13

The impact of heatwaves is not restricted to a region
India’s hill towns are paying a heavy price for unsustainable growth in the plains
On Tuesday, nearly two-thirds of India was under a spell of a heatwave that is on course to become the longest ever, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD). This is in line with predictions that the intensity of heatwaves is rising. While heatwaves affect people who live in that region, they can also have a deleterious impact on faraway areas. Every year, the sweltering heat of the northern plains drives tens of thousands of people to hill stations in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. This year, nearly 15,000 vehicles have already entered Manali and Shimla (Himachal Pradesh), clogging all approach roads to these hill stations. This is unfortunate because these places and their delicate ecosystems cannot handle such an influx. After concretising India’s cities and turning them into heat islands, pressure is being put on places that are still in somewhat better shape. This kind of unbridled tourism will not only devastate these beautiful hill towns but also have a severe downstream impact in the long run.

According to the Niti Aayog, an average of 100 million tourists visit the region — home to about 50 million people — every year. With an aim to generate funds to offset this environmental damage, the Aayog recommended an “introduction of a green cess — in the form of payments from service consumers” because it “can increase tax revenue and help maintain and enhance critical services”. While one understands that these tourist destinations need funds, a green cess or tax on tourism alone is unlikely to have any impact if it is not accompanied by strict regulation and the implementation of existing laws.

The government needs to devise a plan to evaluate the carrying capacity of these regions, and, if need be, restrict the number of tourists. More important, the State needs to tackle the root cause of such a rush to cooler climes: unsustainable development in the plains and their impact on climate

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