The relentless rain which started on about June 16th has lead to many flashfloods in the area. The ferocious rivers originating from the Ganga, the Alakananda, the Mandakini and the Bhagirathi almost seemed to be non-tamable. The unannounced opening of the dams in the area exasperated the situation. A State famous for its religious sanctity includes some of the Hindu pilgrimage centers like Kedarnath, Badrinath and Uttarkashi attracting a mass influx of pilgrims this time of year. Also being the season for the Char Dam Yatra in the State, more than 75,000 devotees were flowing in and were stranded on small islands as the floods poured away most of the roads and infrastructure here. The mass destruction to the constructions on the river banks is yet to be accounted for. Hundreds have died and several thousands injured. One cannot help but wonder was it totally an Act of God?
The answer is a blunt No. The unscrupulous exploitation of the natural resources by humans paved the way for this gruesome tragedy. Unchecked construction of buildings on the banks of the river without heeding to the construction laws in the name of ‘development’ was just the beginning. Taking into consideration the delicate nature of these hilly terrains the construction projects here not only should be mild but should be strictly followed by Building Laws with adequate disaster management techniques incorporated, which the contractors with the help of the higher officials conveniently and blatantly ignored in the race for profit.
In fact according to rules construction works for such a special zone is restricted to 200m from the river bank let alone on the river bank. The large scale deforestation for clearing the space for construction of resorts, hotels and complexes loosened the soils and boulders.
The rampant and un-organized flow of a large number of devotees proved to be too difficult for the delicate zone to be handled. It is only common sense that such a heavy load on these flimsy hilly terrains is a call for disaster. The uneven construction of more and more hydro-power dams on these seismically active zones only exacerbated the situation. These made the rivers more ferocious coming out on the downstream side of the dam causing heavy erosion along its path. Taking the poorly constructed myriad of buildings along its bank with it was just a piece of cake for the gushing flood waters. The National and the State Disaster Management Organizations existed here just for the sake of it if at all they even existed. They were totally unprepared in spite of the warning from the Meteorological Department of heavy rains.
The haphazardly built roads in the area by blasting through the hills for the construction of tunnels made them more and more fragile.
Notwithstanding the strong protests from the people, contractors dumped the construction waste into the rivers that killed many as gushing flood waters brought up the detritus and boulders. The worst fact of all is that it took the authorities almost two days to know of the news and take action and the Centre even later. The NGOs were the first to act.
Thanks to the media that made the news such a big fuzz and operations were undertaken to rescue the stranded pilgrims by helicopters. But it is a matter of pity that the locals who come to these centers on this time of festivities to sell their home-made products or to work in a tea stall, or to assist the pilgrims etc are still in dark as the stranded pilgrims have stolen all the limelight.
Many women of the nearby villages have reported of men missing. The fear of breakout of epidemics due to the mass debris and decaying dead bodies is still lurking in the area. The only hope left to humankind is to heed the messages from these mishaps as we have already failed in preventing it. Taking a stance of environmental jurisprudence is the only way left.
Enhancing and empowering the disaster management authorities is an essential step to be taken in all States especially the seismically active zones and hilly areas.
Use of modern technology like asking for the assistance from organizations like ISRO for an aerial survey, meteorological departments and experts on the pertinent matters can help mitigate the situations.
Otherwise the only option left to mankind is face extinction. A prominent Scientist Ian Stewart quoted “We are locked in a death struggle with our Mother Nature¦and there is going to be only one victor and we all know who that is”. Development should not come at the cost of our environment. Experts point out that more construction activities does not mean more development, rather they should be people oriented.
Reorientation of development to small scale industries like cottage industries will aptly suit the place and construction of small hydel power projects rather than big dams should be given priority. Let us march towards a more environment friendly and sustainable development and assure the future generations an environment friendly ecosystem where their hopes and desires can also be fulfilled.