Sunday 23 June 2013

Himalayan Tsunami

Uttarakand Chief Minister calls it a ‘Himalayan Tsunami’. 70,000 people are missing. Almost 60 villages have been swept away. 57,000 are stranded in Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi. 1500 pilgrims and locals have been rescued from Chamoli district. 1200 tourists have been evacuated from Rudraprayag. It is alleged Early Warning System was not in place. The administration was caught napping as they are aware it a regular feature here, with pilgrims and tourists from all over India arrive here in large numbers every year.

Latest reports say – 70,000 people have been rescued, over 22,000 people are still stranded in flood-hit districts of Uttarakand, 33,000 people evacuated and shifted to relief camps. 123 bodies have been found in Kedarnath temple complex alone. 45 aircrafts and helicopters as well as over 10,000 troops are working to rescue the stranded people and provide relief material and restore communication. Army has also deployed over 100 special-forces troops in Kedarnath and Sonprayag area, which is cut off. IAF choppers, which have air-dropped 20,000 kg of food and relief material. Prime Minister announced a grant of Rs 1000 crore.

As a result of the devastation, it may take 3 years to resume the Char Dham yatra (pilgrimage). It’s nature’s fury no doubt. But many say it was man-made disaster waiting to happen, and it was nature’s intervention to correct these major ecological mistakes made by successive governments, both Congress and BJP.

Officially 1000 death toll was mentioned as per government sources. Toll feared is much higher. Many pilgrims are still missing and it is reported 90 dharam-shalas (local dormitories) have been washed away. Killer rains are expected in 48 hours. Union Home Minister has admitted to lack of co-ordination between rescuers. Threat of epidemic looms as bodies of victims start to rot.

It is clear that apart from nature’s fury, it is a man-made disaster. Environmentalists, experts and activists say un-planned development and rampant felling of trees and forests are responsible for the scale of disaster.

Series of dams has allegedly upset ecological cycle and hill slope stability.
Forest cover depletion has loosened soil, leading to frequent landslides.
No proper urban planning led to houses coming up in danger areas in Rudraprayag, Joshimath, Chamoli, etc.
3 years ago, while auditing hydel projects in Uttarakand, CAG had warned about severe ecological hazards. Its reports were ignored and government has not done anything to allay the fears.

Religious tourism is on the rise, but little attention is paid to safety of pilgrims – governments have done much to promote religious tourism (9,25,000 people went to Badrinath while Allahabad Mahakumb saw 100 million people this year) but very little was done to ensure safety in case of any natural disaster.

Pilgrims being rescued by the Airforce
Army was deployed to rescue stranded pilgrims


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