The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fear of flood cripples life

Shimla, Aug. 19: The fear of a flash flood has taken its toll of both the people and the economy of Himachal Pradesh.

More than 3,500 residents of 56 villages have had to abandon their homes. Most are farmers, who have also had to desert their cattle.

“We are not getting a real picture of the flood threat. We do not know when the fear will leave us. Our life has come to a standstill and the economy has come to a grinding halt. We were forced to abandon our cattle,” a displaced villager said.

Parts of Himachal near the India-Tibet border have been on high alert since news reached India that an artificial lake had been formed by a landslide on the Pare Chu river. The lake on the Sutlej tributary in Tibet threatened to burst its banks, flooding some villages in Himachal.

A panel of Indian experts has, however, said there is no immediate danger from the lake. “Their report said an immediate, sudden, complete breach is unlikely,” H.K. Sharma, a flood expert, revealed today. China maintains that the risk of flash flood remains high.

The fear has affected the apple season in the state. Truckers are avoiding danger areas, leaving growers uncertain about the fate of their produce.

Tourism, too, has taken a hit. Popular tourist spots of Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti are out of favour, as also upper Shimla and Kullu and Manali.

“Tourists are scared following confusing media reports. The occupancy has fallen as low as 25 to 30 per cent. The tourism industry has suffered a lot due to the flash flood threat,” Manali-based hotelier C. Thakur said.

The only positive fallout — for the government — has been residents’ willingness to vacate villages in the way of the 800 MW Kol Dam Hydel Power Project in Bilaspur district. They had earlier snubbed the dam management’s efforts to relocate them.

Chief minister Veerbhadra Singh has announced a grant of Rs 2 crore for relief measures. Yesterday, he visited Samdoh in Kinnaur district and other danger areas to see the preparations of the civil administration, the military and paramilitary forces to tackle flash floods. Singh talked to army officials, Indo-Tibetan Border Police personnel and homeguards.

Commanding Officer Col. P.M. Vats and other officers told the chief minister about the installation of a communication network that could flash alerts across strategic points within five minutes, and of measures to maintain round-the-clock vigil.

Singh later met at Reckong Peo the officers making the necessary arrangements.

“The water level at Samdoh where the Pare Chu enters Himachal Pradesh is normal. But the alert will have to be continued till it is ensured that there is no threat of flood in the Sutlej,” he said.

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