U'khand tragedy: Govt faces tough questions

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Bangalore, July 3: The Uttarakhand flood rescue is over, but life is yet to spring back in this part of the world. While Indians are still coming to terms with the macabre that the Uttarakhand floods have left them with, there are reasons to get bothered even more in the future. There are gaping holes within the nation's disaster management policies since they were reformed post the 2004-Tsunami.

The death and the destruction in the two calamities are still comparable, but the way the administration operates to avoid such incidents remains the same. Unfortunately, the enactment of Disaster Management Act in 2005 and development of the national disaster management response framework has proved worthless. In fact, the National Disaster Management Authority was established then to spearhead a culture of disaster resilience.

Moreover, the National Institute of Disaster Management, along with Disaster Management Cells in the states were supposed to provide training opportunities in disaster management. But, a huge gap is there between the policies and their implementations.

The national preparedness was a good round 'zero' this time too. While one could go on talking about how there was a lack of co-ordination and delay at all levels of the rescue operation, there is one other aspect of the entire tragedy that reveals the incapacity of the government yet again. Ecological experts opine that terrains of Uttarakhand were not adapted to face the huge influx of pilgrims every year. In other words, it lacked the infrastructure and the safety measures that were required to let a tourism industry go on.

Back in the early days, many of the Himalayan sanctuaries were surrounded by forests and wildlife and if there were any buildings, they were simple, biodegradable, thatched huts. India's population was less than one percent of what it is today; there was no rail system and the average Indian never ventured more than 50 miles from his home. Absent from the equation were the millions of "spiritual" tourists who now come from abroad making India home to some of the largest pilgrimages on earth. naturally, the pressure on the topography was less.

In Surat

Relief workers arrange materials for the victims of Uttarakhand floods in Surat.

In Dehradun

Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna and Congress incharge for Uttarakhand Ambika Soni at a press conference in Dehradun.

In Lambagar

Border Road Organisation and army personnel launch a new bridge over Alaknanda at Lambagar in Uttarakhand recently.

In Saudi

Relief materials being distribute to locals at Saudi village in flash flood-hit Kedar valley, Uttarakhand on Sunday.

In Kedarnath

Uttarakhand police and NDRF personnel collect bodies of pilgrims from different places in Kedarnath.

In Kedarnath

Uttarakhand police and NDRF personnel perform mass cremation of the pilgrims bodies in Kedarnath on Sunday.

In Surat

Family of pilgirms being welcomed on their arrival from Uttarakhand at Surat Railway Station.

In Puri

A sand artist creates a sand sculpture on Uttarakhand with the message "Help flood victims" at Puri beach of Odisha.

In New Delhi

Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal receives a cheque for Uttarakhand CM's relief fund from Chairman and Managing Director, Coal India Ltd., S Narsing Rao in New Delhi.

Alarm bells should have sounded when the supporting infrastructure and the urban expansion could not match the sudden outburst of tourists coming here. Following this, there was a spurt in rampant and illegal constructions, some without the required permits and studies. Forests were destroyed and natural habitats turned into guesthouses. Scientifically, this let to the reduction of cohesion, leading to floods, erosion and land slides.

The hydropower projects, underground tunnels and hydropower plants have a profound negative impact on geology and hydrology of the Mountain state. Increasing numbers of environmentalists and helpless locals have looked on aghast as the region's fragile ecology is trampled under an out of control construction mania for hydroelectric projects.

The indigenous people of the region, who have coexisted harmoniously with the natural environment for centuries, have long decried the encroachment of commercialization into their formerly pristine and natural habitats. Their cries have fallen on deaf ears and the plunder continues unabated.

This is the paramount concern in the minds of conservationists. Can the fragile Himalayan region bear the ravages of such rampant and mindless pillage in the name of development? Is there a will on the part of the government to do what is right for the future of this mountain region?

Answering these questions is not a cup of tea for anyone, not even the government because there is no end to the number of excuses that it might have to frame. Meanwhile, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has issued a show-cause to the Uttarakhand Government, the NDMA and the INdian Meteorological Department to justify the rampant construction and illegal development in the hilly regions of the state.

The NGT acted on the plea filed by a body of lawyers called the Legal Aid Committee.

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