All-Weather Connectivity to Remote Parts of India

All-weather connectivity applies to remote villages all over India. Many small villages and isolated houses in India become inaccessible during the monsoon. Due to the scope of limitation of this article, we will discuss large regions that are cut off from the rest of the country at least for a month. This mainly includes regions around the northern border of India. As India moves towards a developed nation, developing road and rail connectivity to these parts becomes necessary. Also, the defense sector will be immensely benefited to position troops precisely at target locations quickly.

1)Kashmir :

Dal Lake in Kashmir

One of the most hostile regions in the country, Kashmir, is a remote, picturesque valley tucked away in the lap of the Himalayas. Pakistan has also claimed Kashmir since 1947, for which India and Pakistan have fought at least 3 wars in 1947, 1965, and 1971. The Kashmir valley is not as easily accessible to India as it is to Pakistan. At present, only two roads connect Kashmir with the rest of India. One is through the Banihal pass, covering Patnitop, Banihal, and Qazigund. Two big tunnels, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee tunnel at Chenani below the Patnitop hill station and the Banihal-Qazigund road tunnel below the Banihal pass, have made the road an all-weather one. The former was inaugurated in April 2016, while the latter was completed in August 2021. The Banihal-Qazigund road tunnel now awaits a formal inauguration, after which we can say that all-weather connectivity with Kashmir has been established. The other road is the old Mughal road via Akhnoor, Poonch, Shopian, which is inaccessible for 6 months in winter. The Udhampur-Baramulla railway line is partially complete between Udhampur and Katra stations and Banihal to Baramulla stations. The missing gap of around 111 Km between Katra and Banihal is expected to be completed by 2022.

2)Ladakh :

Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh

Ladakh is one of the most remote places in entire India, which is cut off for 6 months in winter from the rest of India. At present, Ladakh is connected to India through only two roads, one via Zojila pass and another via Baralacha La pass. Both the passes are covered in a thick blanket of snow from early winter up to mid-summer. This makes Ladakh totally inaccessible except for emergency supplies via Leh airport. Currently, two tunnels, Z-Morh tunnel and Zojila tunnel are under construction in the Zojila pass route. These two tunnels will provide all-weather connectivity to Kargil, though the same cannot be said for Leh as more passes are needed to be covered. The other route through Himachal Pradesh requires tunnels at Baralacha La, Lachulung La, and Taglang La passes to make it an all-weather route. There is no rail route at present between Ladakh and the rest of India. A third road is under construction via Shingo La pass, which will connect the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh with the Zanskar region of Ladakh.

3)Lahaul and Spiti :

Key Monastery in Lahaul and Spiti

Lahaul and Spiti forms the northern tribal districts of Himachal Pradesh. Lahaul and Spiti forms two different valleys, each connected to the rest of India via two separate roads. The Rohtang pass connects Lahaul while Spiti is connected through a narrow road via Reckong Peo, Nako. Both the roads are prone to heavy snowfall in winter. Lahaul and Spiti forms the gateway to Ladakh via Himachal Pradesh. After the inauguration of the Rohtang tunnel in September 2020, Lahaul is finally connected to the rest of India through an all weather road. Spiti is still too remote to be connected even in the near future. The road between these two valleys is through the high altitude Kunzum Pass, which is closed most of the year due to snow. There is no train connection to either of these two valleys.

4)Tawang :

Sela Pass in Tawang

The Tawang region of Arunachal Pradesh is connected to the rest of India through a single road through the Sela pass. The Sela pass is a high altitude pass, which is often blocked by snowfall in winter. To make an all-weather road to the Tawang district, two tunnels will be dug, one below the Sela pass and another at Nechiphu. These two tunnels will provide winter connectivity to Tawang. The construction of Sela tunnel has been started, while the work on the shorter Nechiphu tunnel will be taken up shortly. No rail connections to Tawang exists though a line via the nearest railhead at Bhalukpong is at the planning stage. Though legally a part of India, China claims the Tawang region for which it fought the 1962 Sino-India War. Defense of Tawang is a must at this hour. Hence an all-weather road and rail connectivity to Tawang is a priority to the Government of India.

5)Sikkim :

Gurudongmar Lake in North Sikkim

Sikkim is the smallest state of India in terms of population. Parts of Sikkim get road blockages due to heavy snowfall in winter or heavy rainfall followed by landslides during monsoon. Lachen and Lachung villages of the North Sikkim district face blockade during most of the winter period. Yuksom, Tsomgo Lake, and Nathu La pass region of West and East Sikkim, respectively, get blocked due to snow. The state is connected to the rest of India through only one major national highway, which often gets blocked in the monsoon. An all-weather train line is being laid from Sevoke railway station in West Bengal to Rangpo in Sikkim, which will provide transportation of heavy machinery to the fragile roads of the mountainous state. The Theng tunnel between Mangan and Chungthang of North Sikkim also reduced damage to the only road connecting Lachen and Lachung. The road conditions are being improved by the BRO.

Which of these is your favourite destination? Do mention in the comment section below.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Rainfall and Indian Economy

Most of India is rural, where farmers depend on agriculture and pisciculture for their livelihood. The most important factor regulating the success of crop growing or fishing is rainfall. As more than 80% of the country’s rainfall occurs during the monsoon season, a significant chunk of the Indian economy depends on how the monsoon performs in a year. In this article, let’s look at how monsoon affects the Indian economy that generates a lot of revenue from agriculture and pisciculture.

Monsoon is a seasonal wind pattern that brings in clouds and rain to the Indian subcontinent, which is otherwise quite dry. Monsoons arrive in mainland India from the Indian Ocean around June 1 each year. Kerala is the first state in India to witness the arrival of monsoon. However, monsoons arrive earlier in the Andaman and Nicobar islands around May 21. Monsoon gradually covers southern states of India before arriving in north-east India. The last point to be covered by the monsoon lies in western Rajasthan, which is usually complete in the first week of July. This season is important for kharif or summer crops, which require a lot of rainfall. September 17 onwards, monsoon starts withdrawing from west Rajasthan and gradually withdraws from the entire country within a month and a half and is replaced by north-east monsoons, which are similar to trade winds, arriving on October 20. During autumn, the north-east monsoon fails to bring rainfall over India except Tamil Nadu and southern parts of Andhra Pradesh, where it is an important rainy season. The winter is marked by dry weather over most parts of the country except northern parts of India, especially the western Himalayan region, where western disturbances bring some rain. This winter rain is important for rabi or winter crops that require scanty rainfall. The spring and summer are marked by thunderstorms and sudden wind gusts usually occurring in the afternoon. They are called kalbaisakhi in West Bengal, Bordoishila in Assam, and mango showers and coffee showers in Kerala and Karnataka. The last two names suggest that they help in the ripening of mango and coffee crops, respectively.

Effect of Drought

The late and weak arrival of monsoon is not a good sign for farmers. Kharif crops are shown in April and May, such that their requirement of rainfall comes in June. Even 10 days late arrival of monsoon causes significant loss of productivity. Similarly, late withdrawal also causes excessive rain that damages drought-resistant crops, especially in Rajasthan, where monsoons are increasingly withdrawing late, by as far as one month. North-east monsoons are also arriving late, becoming inconsistent, and irregular. Cyclones and depressions have shown an increasing trend of developing both pre-monsoon and post-monsoon. Excessive rainfall caused by a cyclonic storm or depression also causes widespread damage to crops. India has, over the years, experienced drought and flood. This is of particular concern nowadays, as both drought and flood are occurring simultaneously in different parts of the country, damaging crops all around the country. Early rain, especially in winter and spring, is equally damaging for fruit production. Kashmiri apple is harvested in November, and heavy snow early for the season before apples are picked causes premature rotting. Similarly, cyclones or gusty winds in spring or early summer cause the falling of unripened mangoes, decreasing the availability of ripened mangoes.

Effect of Flood

Pisciculture of seasonal fishes is affected by the change in monsoon patterns. Hilsa, the prized fish from West Bengal, is best caught during the early monsoon stage when Hilsa fishes migrate from deep sea and reach inland freshwater rivers. Hilsa catch in West Bengal has lowered considerably due to weak monsoon rains during June and July. Cloudy sky, availability of freshwater in river estuaries, and calm water with drizzle are some factors provoking Hilsa to reach estuaries for their breeding. The absence of such conditions, especially in the Ganges delta, is causing a reduction in Hilsa catch. The extended rainy season in Maharashtra and Goa causes the Arabian Sea to remain warm in October and November, thus hampering the migration of fishes from warm to cool waters. It resulted in a 50% decline of fish catch in both states, while there is a marginal decline of fish catch in other states along the west coast. The effect of weakened north-east monsoon is seen in the steep decline of inland fish production of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Frequent cyclones cause the inability of fishers to reach deep sea for fishing. Reduction of fishing days can severely hinder the production of seasonal fishes, which are caught only at a particular season each year. However, unlike farmers, weather-hit fishers are not given compensation as per the latest laws of the Government.

Fisheries in India

Erratic rainfall has also impacted sericulture, floriculture, and apiculture in India. Sericulture is the rearing of the silkworm, floriculture is the term for large-scale cultivation of flowers, and apiculture is another word for beekeeping. While sericulture and floriculture are affected by bleak monsoon rains, apiculture is affected during continuous heavy rain for long periods. The rearing of silkworms has been increasingly affected by less summer and early monsoon rains, which are getting weaker. Both in Maharastra and Assam, March-July rains have reduced significantly, causing the disappearance of the silkworm. Silkworms prefer a cool climate with moderate humid conditions and water availability. Less rain and more sunlight mean hot weather during summer with a fall in humidity and water levels. A drop in late and post-monsoon rainfall affects flower production as most of the flowers are planted during September-November. This trend is seen in the east coast of the country, which usually gets late bursts of monsoon rains. The late bursts are now being replaced by deadly cyclones that do more harm to flowering plants than good. The Number of beehives has reduced significantly in the Nashik region of Maharashtra and in some other parts where moringa is cultivated. This reduction is attributed to excessive rainfall in short periods followed by floods.

Flower Garden in India

Let us now look at some examples. In 2019, excessive monsoon rain followed by flooding caused significant damage to onion crops growing in Maharashtra and Gujarat. This led to a severe onion crisis in the country when the price of onions skyrocketed to more than 200%. Lower potato production in Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest potato growing region, caused a more than 40% rise in potato prices last year. Though 40% may seem very less, it is a considerable margin for middle and lower-income class people for whom potato is a staple. Apple production was particularly damaged in the 2019 November snowfall in Jammu and Kashmir, which was declared a state disaster. Cyclone Amphan damaged mango trees and caused the premature fall of mangoes in West Bengal in 2020. Cyclone Tauktae wreaked havoc for fishers of Veraval in Gujarat, which accounted for 60% of Gujarat’s fish catch. The water crisis in big cities is also a major problem that needs to be encountered. The 2019 Chennai water crisis was due to poor north-east monsoon rains, while the 2020 Shimla water crisis was attributed to a snow-free winter in Himachal. We have already witnessed once-in-a-century floods in Kerala in 2018 and the most damaging 2013 Uttarakhand floods. The major crop-belt in eastern Maharashtra, north Karnataka, Telangana, interior Andhra Pradesh are receiving alternate years of flood and drought, hampering crop productivity.

India has witnessed its own ways of tackling such natural calamities. Over thousands of years, Indians have found a way to stand beside others and keep the production sustainable for the future. We have seen how water trains have moved from one place to another to curb water crises in any area. We have seen how flood monitoring techniques and accurate forecasts have helped farmers and fishers take preventive measures beforehand. In all natural disaster crises, we should stand beside others and help mitigate the situation. Values and humanity are the keys to a developed and prosperous nation.

Written by – Himadri Paul

Analysis of Glacial Burst in Uttarakhand

The upper Himalayan region is full of high peaks, and glaciers that store a vast amount of water to sustain the Indus valley civilization, the Vedic era, and even modern society today. Little do we know that the Himalayas’ glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate due to pollution and global warming. Things only come to notice when disasters happen.

Glacier burst in Uttarakhand is not a common thing. It is impossible to happen in February when the glaciers are expanding, owing to fresh snowfall in the area. However, what happened in Joshimath, Chamoli surprised the scientists as much as it shocked us.

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We had not forgotten the horrors of 2013 Uttarakhand flash floods at Kedarnath when rains melted the Chorabari glacier enough to cause “Himalayan Tsunami”. The glacier burst in Joshimath, near Badrinath, was a similar disaster, which damaged two under-construction hydroelectric power station in Rishiganga and Dhauliganga rivers, and also caused flash flooding in the Alakananda. However, the damage was mainly restricted to Joshimath area, and the downstream areas were not affected by the disaster.

The Rishiganga project at Reini village of Chamoli has thoroughly washed away. In the Dhauliganga project, the mouth of one of the tunnel was completely blocked were some of the project workers were working. Twelve workers have been rescued from a small tunnel by the NDRF, SDRF, Indian Tibetan border police and some other disaster operation teams jointly, after executing an indomitable task of cutting through the debris. However, the main tunnel is entirely blocked with at least 25-35 workers trapped inside. Despite the timely rescue operations, at least 50 lives are lost in the disaster, with over 150 missing as of 14th Feb 2021.

Scientists debate over what exactly happened. With proofs, it is presumed that a part of Nanda Devi glacier broke off and slid down the narrow valleys and melted, causing flash floods. It is also probable that the broken leg is a hanging valley of the massive glacier. It came down the central glacial valley into the river valley, first creating a glacial lake, which afterwards burst open, causing flash floods. The Dehradun-based Indian Institute of Remote Sensing states that the cause of flash-floods may be a landslide causing massive snow avalanche in the Rishiganga area.

There are also speculations that the cause was a radioactive substance which was long back deposited near Nanda Devi base camp. It was carried in 1965 due to China border nearby. However, the expedition team was caught in a blizzard and had to leave behind the substance. Subsequent expeditions never found it.
Another story is that of a recent western disturbance that recently visited the area, which caused heavy snow in the place, and an avalanche of a massive magnitude. Notably, the western disturbance had caused record-breaking snowfall in Shimla.

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However, all point to something exciting, Himalayan glaciers are melting very fast, and human encroachment in the mountains are causing more harm to the environment than good. A recent study done in 2019 have assessed that the glaciers are melting twice as fast as that at the beginning of the 20th century. Glaciers and snow will disappear from the Himalayas by the turn of the next century if conditions are not reversed.

Again, what is the need of the hour is awareness. Construction of roads, helipads, for easy access to the mountains may be a short term measure to prevent massive destruction due to natural calamities. The long term measures speak about global warming, pollution, encroachment, illegal construction, and much more. People of Lahaul-Spiti have already raised voices against the construction of hydroelectric power plants in the area, where environmental impact assessment are speculated to be not carried out correctly. It may be the beginning of new research in the ecologically sensitive Himalayan region, where we need the glaciers to stay and increase in volume.

For latest updates regarding Uttarakhand 2021 disaster, you may follow it here.

Written by – Himadri Paul