The State has deposits of a variety of minerals viz. salt, gypsum, limestone, barite, clay, mica, iron, pyrites, slate and lead. Limestone is the most heavily quarried mineral of the state and provides raw material for the three major cement plants and a number of small units in the State. Most of the limestone, slate and other quarrying is open cast and cause substantial degradation of the land due to depositing of overburden.
The Water Bodies:
Besides the extensive river systems, the hills and valleys of the state are dotted with numerous water bodies including natural lakes and manmade reservoirs. Some of the important natural lakes are Ghadasaru, Khajjiar, Lama, Manimahesh, Mahakali (Chamba); Dal, Kaveri (Kangra); Kumserwali, Prashar, Rewalsar, Kuntbhyo, Kalasar, Sukhasar (Mandi); Bharigu, Sareolsar, Mantalai (Kullu); Chandertal, Surajtal (Lahaul & Spiti); Chandranahan, Karali, Bradasar (Shimla); Nako (Kinnaur); Renuka, Suketi (Sirmour). The major manmade reservoirs in the State include Govindsagar (Bilaspur), Pongdam (Kangra) and Pandoh (Mandi).
Whereas most of these lakes form very important places of pilgrimage and witness a throng of visitors during festive seasons, these also form unique aquatic ecosystems harbouring rich faunal and floral diversity. All the manmade reservoirs, especially the Pongdam, have attained the distinction of acting as winter home to a large variety of migratory birds.
Perennial fresh water springs are another very important source of water in the State, especially for drinking purposes. Besides these fresh water springs, there are many hot water springs in the State and those at Manikaran in the Parvati valley, Vashistha near Manali, Tatapani in Shimla, Jeori, Tapri & some other places are known for their curative powers, mythical legends and invigorating contents. The devotees conduct various rituals on these springs and make offerings to ancestral spirits and Gods. Each one of these is associated with sages of ancient time who meditated at these sites according to written and oral records and folklore.
Besides the natural water sources, rainwater are also harvested in the State in village ponds dug up and maintained for the purpose. This water helps to tide over the pinch period water requirements during dry months and act as a good source of water for the livestock.
‘Khatries’ – the horizontal tunnels bored into the mountain slopes to tap water accumulated in the mountain folds, form an important source of water in the water scarce district of Hamirpur and Mandi. Sub-soil water is also tapped in the State through bore wells and open wells. These wells form the mainstay of irrigation in the districts of Una, Sirmour, Solan and Kangra. Of late the State government has also installed more than 10,000 hand pumps in the State to augment the drinking water availability to the people.
Issues: The various water sources in the State are tapped to fulfill the water requirements of the human and livestock populations, for various development works and other day today requirements and for irrigation. The State has an estimated potential to generate 20,000 MW of hydroelectric power. Various rivers and streams have been dammed for harnessing this vast hydroelectric power potential, for irrigation and for providing water to various habitations. Water has been diverted from the streams through ‘kuhls’ and ground water is being exploited for irrigation purposes. A huge deficit in the water availability to various human habitations and for irrigation purposes exists in the State. Efforts are on to augment this water supply. Efforts are also being made to harvest the maximum possible hydro-electric potential of the State. The result is diversion of more and more water from the natural sources causing the sources to dry below the harvesting point. Effects of this tapping of water sources on the biodiversity are yet to be studied.
Forests: The recorded forest area of the State is 3.54 million hectare, which constitutes 63.60% of the total geographical area of the State. Not all this forest area is, however, under tree cover and also includes natural scrub forests, pastures/ alpine pastures and areas under permanent snow. The tree cover (dense forests and open forests) is limited to 13,082 km2 and accounts for 23.50% of the geographical area of the State (SFR, 1999). The actual forest tree cover has shown an increase of 561 km2 over the last assessment made during 1997 even as a total of 440 km2 of dense forests have degraded to open forests over the same period. The permanent pastures including the alpine meadows that form a very important and stable ecosystem cover more than 12,000 km2 and constitute about 21% of the geographical area of the State. Various kinds of natural scrub forests cover an area of 566 km2 and constitute another one percent of the geographical area of the State. Both the alpine meadows and the scrub forests provide habitat to a variety of very important medicinal flora of the State. Given the wide altitudinal and climatic range in the State, a wide variety of forests are met with at different altitudes and in different physiographic zones. A fair idea about this diversity of forest types can be had from the table 1.5 below:
Table: Diversity of forest types
Major Forest Group
Tropical Moist Deciduous Forests
Moist Shiwalik Sal forest
Moist Bhabar Sal forest
Tropical Dry Deciduous Forests
Dry Shiwalik Sal forest
Northern Dry Mixed Deciduous forest
5B/ C2/ DS1
Dry Deciduous Scrub
Dry Bamboo Brakes
Khair Sissoo Forests
Subtropical Pine Forests
Himalayan subtropical Pine forests
Himalayan subtropical scrub
Subtropical Euphorbia scrub
Subtropical Dry-Evergreen Forests
Subtropical dry evergreen forest
Himalayan Moist Temperate Forests
Lower Western Himalayan Ban Oak forests
Lower Western Himalayan Mohru Oak forests
Lower Western Himalayan moist Deodar forests
Lower Western Himalayan mixed coniferous forests
Lower Western Himalayan moist temperate deciduous forests
Upper Western Himalayan Kharsu Oak forests
West Himalayan upper Oak/ Fir forest
Montane bamboo brakes
Himalayan temperate parklands
Himalayan Dry Temperate Forest
Dry broad leaved and coniferous forest (Q. ilex- P. gerardiana)
Dry temperate coniferous – Neoza pine forests
Dry temperate coniferous – dry deodar forests
West Himalayan high-level dry blue pine forest
West Himalayan dry Juniper forest
West Himalayan sub-alpine Fir forest
West Himalayan sub-alpine Birch/ Fir forest
Moist Alpine Scrub
Birch/ Rhododendron scrub forest
Deciduous alpine scrub
Dwarf Rhododendron scrub
Dry Alpine Scrub
Dry alpine scrub
Dwarf Juniper scrub
Source: Champion H. G. and S. K. Seth (1968): A Revised Survey of Forest Types of India. GOI
The forests are a very important natural resource of the State. They not only help in maintaining the ecological stability of the fragile landscape, form the basis of rich biodiversity of the State and keep the perennial watercourses flowing, but also provide various life supporting infrastructure to the local communities and revenue to the state government.
The forests of Himachal Pradesh have an estimated growing stock of 10.26 crore m3 and more than 4.5 lakh m3 of timber is harvested every year in the form of salvage and to meet the demand of right holders. As per one estimate timber worth Rs. 60 crore is allocated to the right holders at nominal cost every year (HPFSR, 2000). All green commercial harvesting of timber from the State’s forests has been suspended since 1984. An estimated 35 lakh mt of fuel wood and 150 lakh mt of green fodder is required per year in the State. Major part of this demand is met from the forests of the State. The forests also contribute an estimated annual income of Rs. 25 crore to the rural communities in the shape of minor forest produce. An estimated 48 lakh man days worth of employment is also generated on account of various forestry related works every year. Apart from these direct consumptive benefits, the forestry resources also have many non-consumptive and indirect benefits to the people of the State in the shape of ecotourism potential, watershed and climatic values and as reservoirs of biodiversity.
The forests are managed as per prescriptions of periodic government approved ‘Working Plans’ prepared by specially designated forest officers. Of late, principles of community participation in the forest management have also been made an integral part of Working Plans. The State Government and the State Forest Department have launched various schemes to involve local people in management of the forests. Efforts are afoot to involve the Panchayati Raj Institutions in forest management.
People of the State have traditionally been following one or the other model of agro forestry on their fields. This practice was very useful in so far as major part of the fuel and fodder requirement of the people was met from these fields. However, with intensification of agriculture, these traditional practices have suffered. Various community forestry, social forestry and farm forestry schemes have also been launched to inform people of their traditional practices and to motivate them to take up tree planting on marginal lands so that pressures on the forests for fuel and fodder could be reduced.
As per the 2001 census report, the human population of the State stood at 60, 77,248 showing a decadal growth of 17.53%. Even though the population has increased by 9, 06,371 in absolute numbers between 1991 and 2001, the growth rate has shown a definite down trend as compared to the decadal population growth rate of 20.59% between 1981 and 1991. Population figures for the State since 1951 are as per table below:
Table : Population growth and density since 1952
Density per Km2
Himachal Pradesh has the highest percentage of rural population (90.21%) in the country residing in more than twenty thousand villages across the State. However, this population is concentrated in the middle and lower belts of the State with Hamirpur district having the highest population density of 369 per km2. On the other hand the districts of Lahaul & Spiti and Kinnaur have a population density of a mere 2 and 13 per km2 respectively. The growth of urban population of the State has, however, been more than the growth of rural population and has increased by more than 1% over the last decade.
The sex ratio in the State is 970 females per thousand males and the literacy rate stands at 77.13 % with the literacy rate for the males being 86.02% and for the females 68.08%.
The major sociological population groups in the State include the ‘Rajputs and Brahmins’, the ‘Scheduled Tribes’ and the ‘Scheduled Castes’. The Rajputs and Brahmins own most of the agricultural land and form the most affluent and influential social group in the village community. The Scheduled Castes in the State are believed to be ‘aborigines of the hills’ and have traditionally been dependent upon vocations like cobblery, carpentry, black smithy, tailoring, basket weaving and the like. Only recently, some of the Scheduled Castes have taken to agriculture after allotment of land to them under the State’s ‘Nautor’ policy. The Scheduled Tribes include the gaddis, the gujjars and the bhots and their main concentration is in the districts of Sirmour, Chamba, Kinnaur and Lahaul & Spiti. The tribal communities are mainly engaged in animal husbandry with many of them practicing migratory grazing. The very nature of their vocation has contributed to the lower literacy rate in these communities.