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Himachal Rain Havoc Devastates Business

By Debarghya Sanyal & Sanjeeb Mukherjee
August 25, 2023 07:53 IST
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Tourism is badly affected. Entire apple orchards have been washed away. 2 million people are threatened with loss of livelihood.

IMAGE: National Disaster Response Force personnel conduct a rescue and search operation at a temple in the Summer Hill area in Shimla, August 20, 2023, where over 20 people were buried in a landslide. Photograph: ANI Photo

Puneet Raniyal and his family of four had made a last-minute getaway plan to spend the Independence Day long weekend in Manali, Himachal Pradesh. But they were dashing back to Delhi on Sunday afternoon, two days ahead of their scheduled return.

As heavy rain began to batter the hilly states of Himachal and Uttarakhand early Sunday, and the Met department predicted the onslaught to last another 4-5 days, the Raniyals were among many who heeded the warnings and opted to cut short their trip.

The caution shown by travellers also reflects the hit to tourism -- a mainstay of hill economies -- that both states have felt already.

Nearly a hundred people had lost their lives as rescue operations continued to pull out bodies from the debris of collapsed houses in the neighbouring states.

In Himachal, more than 60 people have died. In Uttarakhand, too, rescue efforts were still on and the loss of nearly 40 lives is suspected, Ranjit Sinha, secretary of the state's disaster management department, told Business Standard.

IMAGE: Cracks appear on the road in Shimla, July 20, 2023, due to landslides. Photograph: ANI Photo

With visuals of roads caving in and houses washed away spooking tourists, cancelled reservations are only the tip of the iceberg.

Bharat Bhushan (name changed on request), a retired army official, owns three properties in Mandi, Himachal, which he rents out as homestays.

Two of these have been irreparably damaged in the rain; he is only glad that some guests escaped with minor injuries.

Bhushan told Business Standard that many among the nearly two dozen other owners that he knew, who rented out hostels and homestays in and around the district, have suffered similar damages.

"For many of us, these properties were our main source of a steady income, sometimes bringing in close to Rs 20 lakh-Rs 25 lakh (Rs 2 million to Rs 2.5 million) per year. We are now planning to approach the state government for a relief reconstruction fund," Bhushan said.

Anup Thakur, president of the Kullu Manali Paryatan Vikas Mandal, said July and August are lean months in terms of tourist footfall in the state.

"With heavy rainfall during these two months, business gains pace again from September. And by now advanced reservations in hotels would have picked up. But news of the damage and destruction has kept our phones silent," he added.

Besides hotels, hostels and homestays, the blow to tourism has had a cascading effect on the ecosystem of local businesses, which include numerous eateries and roadside dhabas.

IMAGE: Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami conducts an aerial survey to inspect the increased water level of the Ganga in Rishikesh, August 14, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

In Himachal, a total of 621 roads, including a maximum of 236 in Mandi, 59 in Shimla and 40 in Bilaspur district, were closed for vehicular traffic, according to the state's emergency operation centre.

In Uttarakhand, too, Sinha pointed out, while the damage had been limited to small pockets such as in Rishikesh, roads leading to the hills had borne the brunt of landslides and flash floods.

IMAGE: Hailstorms damaged the apple crop in Shimla. Photograph: ANI Photo

Apple crop damage

The incessant rains threaten to pose the greatest impact on the apple growers of Himachal Pradesh who form a significant part of the country's fruit industry.

According to data from the India Meteorological Department, between June 1 and August 15 this year, Himachal Pradesh experienced 732.1 millimetres of rainfall, 45 per cent higher than the norm.

On August 15, the state encountered 22.1 millimetres of rainfall, a staggering 187 per cent above average.

The downpours triggered premature fruit falling and shrinking in size, leading to reduced yields and increased fungal attacks as a result of the moist environment.

Typically, Himachal produces around 30.5 million to 40.5 million boxes of apples annually, with each box weighing 24-28 kg depending on the size of the fruits.

However, this year, due to the rains and other adversities, production is expected to plummet to 10 million-10.25 million boxes.

The apple plants flower around April, with most trees bearing fruit within 100-110 days.

"July and August are crucial months for the apple fruit to develop in size and colour. The rains have severely impacted these critical stages for most of the state's crop," said Harish Chauhan, an apple grower.

Lokinder Singh Bisht, president of the Progressive Growers' Association, a group of apple farmers, pointed out that the worst impact would be in Shimla and Kullu districts, where entire orchards had been washed away.

The ongoing harvests, he added, were disrupted due to rain and road damage.

Bisht noted that middlemen were capitalising on the supply disruption, causing farmers to sell produce at lower prices compared to the retail market, where prices remain elevated.

After tourism, apple contributes significantly to Himachal Pradesh's economy, estimated at around Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 50 billion) to Rs 6,000 crore (Rs 60 billion) per annum.

The loss is estimated at nearly Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion) for produce and related businesses.

The economic impact extends beyond growers, affecting the labour force, packers, and transporters.

In this case, lower elevation areas have suffered the most, with the livelihoods of 1.4 to 2 million people at risk.

The Apple Farmers' Federation of India, affiliated with the All India Kisan Sabha, has voiced concerns over the crisis, highlighting that the import duty on American apples has been slashed from 70 to 50 per cent.

With the rising cost of production and declining returns for apple farmers in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, the federation fears, these foreign apples could flood the Indian markets and further impact domestic growers.

Manufacturing units safe

Representatives from both state governments, however, pointed out that infrastructural damages had been limited to the hilly areas, and had not touched the major manufacturing belts in the foothills.

According to Sinha, "While Haridwar manufacturing units were partially affected, there was no suspension of activities or closures. The major manufacturing units in Pantnagar and Sitarganj have remained unaffected."

Similarly, an official from Himachal's disaster management department also pointed out that the state's crucial industrial zones such and Baddi in Solan had so far remained unaffected by the weather woes.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

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Debarghya Sanyal & Sanjeeb Mukherjee
Source: source