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Monday, March 27, 2023


Abject administrative failure


The core issue in Uttarakhand is development vis-à-vis overall growing population
Tags : Uttarakhand disaster | Uttarakhand floods | Char Dham yatra | Kedarnath | IMD | |

There have been natural disasters in the country since time immemorial and all these years we have only been reactive and have somehow managed such crises year after year.

This time again nature’s fury has left behind unaccounted deaths and untraceable persons, unimaginable environmental and economic losses and has totally changed the environmental scenario of ‘Dev Bhumi’ or the Land of Gods as Uttarakhand is popularly known.

All this happened in spite of similar, if not as intensive, occurrences in the past and met department’s repeated warnings. The local administration was simply caught unawares.

A study of the cloudbursts in geographic area of the present Uttarakhand for the period 1908 to 2013 ie 105 years, would reveal that a total of eight cloudbursts have occurred, out of which the first three occurred within the first 90 years, (leaving a nil occurrence period from 1998-2003 i.e five years) the other five have occurred in the past nine years alone from July 2004 to June 2013.

What intrigues the common  man’s mind is why there is an increase in the frequency of cloudbursts and why there is a rise in the number of casualties’ despite modern high-tech gadgets for early warning, search and rescue which are available, to the state administration?

As for the increased frequency, global warming is a major contributory factor. It is time the administrative machinery is made aware of the implications of this global changes in weather. Implementation of corrective actions thus becomes imperative with strict penalties on defaulters. It is equally important that the administrative machinery not only stops indiscriminate exploitation of the land, through unplanned development, undue felling of the green cover and generation of avoidable atmospheric pollution, but also takes concrete steps to prevent them.

Uttarakhand is a live example where large number of hotels, guest houses, dharamshalas and dhabas has mushroomed in a short period of 10 to 15 years, exploiting the soft hilly land for commercial purposes, not to forget the ever increasing number of permanently located and visiting vehicular traffic

The core issue is that of development vis-à-vis overall growing population. After all, the increasing population needs food, clothing, housing, education, employment, medical facilities etc. But then the moot question is development at what cost; planned or unplanned; rural or only urban?

In Uttarakhand too, haphazard development has taken place in the recent past against the repeated advice of environmentalists, geologists and other experts.

Coming to met warnings, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) had sent repeated messaged to the authorities in Uttarakhand regarding heavy rains. Some of the warnings and responses, as reported in the media, were as under:

“The warnings had been sent to a slew of top officials, including the state’s chief secretary, district magistrates (of the districts where the Char Dham yatra takes place), the Disaster Management and Mitigation Centre, ITBP, OSD to the Char Dham yatra and other top authorities. Tragically, none realized the gravity of these warnings or acted upon them.’’

“Jun 15, 2013: Heavy rain during next 72 hours. Yatris are requested to get back to shelter places. Heavy rains during next 72 hours with very heavy rains on June 17 - Met alert issued to DM of Rudraprayag, ITBP
Warning – Char Dham yatris are advised to postpone yatra by 4 days - special advisory issued for pilgrims
June 16, 2013: Yatris to get back to safer places. Heavy rains likely during next 36 hours’. - Met alert to Rudraprayag DM, state chief secretary

Such criminal neglect can only be dealt with if accountability is made mandatory in such situations. Passing of the buck should not be allowed, irrespective of whatever position the guilty person is holding.

Another major area of concern is the disaster management set-up in the country. In India, the concept itself took shape in 2005, in the wake of the Tsunami, with the Parliament enacting the Disaster Management Act, 2005, followed by the formation of the NDMA, the NIDM, NDRF and other wings of disaster management. It is not surprising to note that parallel to the autonomous body like NDMA, of which the Prime Minister is the Chairman, a Disaster Management Authority also functions under the Ministry of Home Affairs. 

(Views expressed by the author are personal)

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017