Threats to Mussoorie’s ecology due to overexploitation, demographic changes

The increasing pressure on available resources, lack of long term planning, changes in demography and climate has increased stress on the Mussorie, ‘The Queen of the Hills’. With significant tourist influx, many have started to question whether this beautiful hill town has grown beyond its carrying capacity and is now crumbling under its own growing weight.

The changes have led to problems like acute water shortage, traffic congestion, inadequate parking space and shortage of enough living space in the small hill station. Located in the foothills of the Garhwal Himalayan range, the population of Mussoorie has increased from 6,461 in 1901 to 30,118 according to the last census report of 2011. The population has since increased to 35,650 in 2015 according to Jal Sansthan officials. Mussoorie attracts significant tourist footfall due to its proximity to Delhi and Dehradun.

Around 5,000 vehicles reach Mussoorie every day during summers, making traffic management a herculean task, especially when most of the hotels do not have enough parking facilities, said Bhavna Kainthola, in-charge police station Mussoorie.

The emerging concrete jungle

The post-Independence era witnessed a significant rise in the population and tourist influx creating demand for more houses, hotels, guest houses and restaurants, and in the process replacing the once vast green cover with a concrete jungle.

The construction activity witnessed a significant surge between 1990 and 1997, reducing the forest cover by 4.38 sq km and increasing the built-up area by over 4.32 sq km. Based on the rough estimations, out of 5,443 domestic and commercial water connections registered in the town, Mussoorie has over 5,000 structures.

Mussoorie-based historian Gopal Bhardwaj said Britishers started settling in Mussoorie after the Anglo-Gurkha war of 1814, primarily to escape the heat of plains. “Initially there were around 116 houses in Mussoorie and Landour according to the first settlement records of 1842. That time around 1,000 people had come to live here. The population then rose to 3,112 in 1865, 6,461 in 1901 and finally to over 30,000 according to the last census,” he said.

The lack of enough parking spaces is also creating problems here. The three government-owned parking facilities and two private ones fall short to cater to the number of vehicles that land up in Mussoorie during peak season. The authorities are, however, claiming that the ongoing construction of parking space at Kingcraig with a capacity of 200 vehicles will be completed within a year.

How fluctuating demographics is affecting local ecology

According to tourism department officials, over 27 lakh tourists visited Mussoorie in 2017 and over 28 lakh in 2018 adding to the floating population of the hill town.

This has added to the pressure on the natural resources such as forests as it has sparked more construction activity in violation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, in notified private forest estates here. In 1990s, the construction activities increased manifold. The oak trees in the surrounding areas have borne the brunt and are being cut rampantly in the forest area under private estates. The forest department with its limited powers has the right to only fine Rs 2000 and in some rare cases a bit more but that has not served as a deterrent to the violators.

Data from 2015 gives us some idea about how the overall population of Mussoorie increases significantly with the floating population on account of increased tourist footfall. In 2015, the total population of Mussoorie was 35,650 persons in off-season, which swelled to 92,923 persons in peak tourist season, according to Jal Sansthan officials.

Increasing water woes

Mussoorie depends on its 20 plus water springs that are recharged by aquifers which help in soaking the rainwater during monsoon and releasing it in the form of springs during the summer season.

However, the increasing tourist influx, coupled with rampant construction, has put additional pressure on rich biodiversity, water resources and the green cover. Interestingly, the name ‘Mussoorie’ is said to have been derived from ‘mansoor’, a shrub indigenous to the area. This loss in local green cover has in turn led to decline in seepage of rainwater that feeds the springs in the region, the main source of the drinking water supply.

Hugh Gantzer, who is also a member of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) said Jal Sansthan had no way to assess how much water was being consumed as no water meters have been installed due to fund crunch. “The state government inaugurated the new water lifting scheme from the Yamuna before Lok Sabha polls, but I have learnt from some officials that a survey will be carried out again which raises a question on when the project would be finally initiated, ” said Gantzer.

Expert speak

Vishal Singh, an expert on Himalayan water bodies and deputy executive director at Doon-based Centre for Ecology Development and Research (CEDAR), said they have been studying how to protect critical water recharge zones in Mussoorie under the Climate Adaptive Water Management practices in Mussoorie funded by Canada based International Development Resources Centre.

Singh said the ambitious project which started in 2016 will conclude in September 2019.

“Mussoorie has limited sources for water supply, mainly over 20 springs in the forests there. We are studying to strengthen these springs and recharge zones so that water outflow doesn’t drop,” he said.

Singh added that due to various factors, including climate change and demographic changes, the water flow from these sources has come down marginally. “We don’t want it to come down substantially, which can lead to a major water crisis in the area,” he said.

Singh said instead of sourcing water from the Yamuna, the authorities and locals should work on strengthening the existing water sources in Mussoorie. “The approach should be based on three ‘R’s of managing water resources – recharge, retain and release,” he said.

Vipin Kumar, an environmentalist from Mussoorie said forest department and Mussoorie Dehradun Development Authority (MDDA) should not allow any kind of commercial construction in Mussoorie anymore as there won’t be enough water left to meet the surge in demand.

What authorities have to say?

SK Saini, executive Engineer Jal Sansthan said most of the water is drawn from the springs in the forest areas around Mussoorie and stored in 29 reservoirs established at different areas of the town. “At present Jal Sansthan is drawing 7.67 million litre per day (MLD) of water from the springs for drinking purpose whereas the demand doubles during tourist season to around 14.40 MLD. This creates roughly 50% water deficit in the hill town. The water requirement will increase further once the ongoing construction of the sewerage project with nine sewerage treatment plants is completed,” he said.

Anuj Gupta, chairman, Mussoorie municipality, said the illegal dwellings within the municipal limits will be removed soon. “Mussoorie municipality has floated four tenders for developing parking facilities at Library, Landour Bazaar, Civil Hospital and Picture Palace which will ease the parking woes to some extent.”

First Published:
May 30, 2019 14:48 IST

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