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Palampur: A hill station in danger
July 12, 2004 11:30 IST
Nestled in the foothills of the Dhauladhar range, the town of Palampur in Himachal Pradesh is the ideal retreat for individuals seeking an escape from the ills of city life. However, like other more famous hill-stations, Palampur too is in danger of falling prey to human activity due to man-environment conflict.
Blessed with remarkable natural beauty, this beautiful town 545km from New Delhi is famous for its salubrious climate and landscaped tea gardens.
"One major issue at the present moment is the pollution of the town and its surrounding areas," says K B Ralhan, president of the Palampur Welfare and Environment Protection Forum.
"Deforestation is another major problem. Deodar trees are slowly disappearing without any systematic plantation work. Moreover, uncontrolled mining and extraction of sand, stone and gravel threaten important roads and housing colonies.
"Currently, the population of Palampur is 35,000 and is expected to touch 48,000 in the next 10-15 years.
"However, there is no clear-cut collection and disposal mechanism of municipal organic waste leading to an unhygienic scenario in Palampur," complains Ralhan.
"Indiscriminate human activity has taken us to the edge of environmental chaos," says Dr Madhav Mehra, president of the World Environment Foundation, at the sixth World Congress on Environment Management held in Palampur recently.
"Palampur is the microcosm of the degradation that is taking place. The banks of the Neugal, Bhiral and Mol streams have widened due to rampant mining. People are encroaching upon forestland. Erosion of cultivated lands and even landslides have become a common feature," he says.
Former state revenue minister B B Butail says that the government is doing its bit for the environment. A law banning the use of polyurethane bags in Himachal Pradesh came into effect in June. "The law will be strictly followed. No one will be spared or given any concessions," he insists.
Indeed, people in Palampur do seem to be desisting from using plastic bags. The only plastic bags in the vicinity seem to be the ones wedged among the pebbles in the numerous streams and rivulets.
Palampur got its name from pulum, which means water in local parlance. Indeed, countless streams and brooks abound. The town came into being in the 19th century when the British found it the ideal location for tea plantation.
According to former army chief Gen V N Sharma, who hails from Palampur, "The town does not face massive pollution as there are no major industries. But still, humans are certainly responsible for water pollution."
Meanwhile, Tej Pratap, who retired recently as the vice-chancellor of the Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University, pinned the responsibility for saving the environment on the corporate sector.
"There is a need for cleaner, greener technologies and greater investment in research," he says.
Things may not be that bad for Palampur. There is time still and concerted effort can yet stem the tide. The Palampur Welfare and Environment Protection Forum has taken the initiative to do so.
"Our NGO has a large pool of gifted professionals - scientists, engineers and civil servants - who wish to share and contribute their expertise for the sustainable development of Palampur through partnership for social and environmental change," says Ralhan.
"We have the capacity to educate the people, assist the state government, and work with other such organisations for achieving our objectives," he says.The legacy of the beautiful Himalayan retreat is not lost yet. If all goes well, tourists will continue to visit Palampur and enjoy a holiday in the lap of Mother Nature.
More reports from Himachal Pradesh