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In the Wake of Doom

 

PRASHANTO BANERJI | Issue Dated: July 14, 2013, Delhi
Tags : Education | torn into pieces | globally! |
 

“You are very new to this… I don’t know if you can do justice to this subject”, said Mr. Ghosh.  He was right about my lack of experience but I thought I had done enough to bury my naivete under mounds of hurried but what I hoped was adequate research.

I really wanted to help, as too would perhaps you and many others who you and I might know. But like you, I didn’t know what I should do. Yes I could send money to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund but what if I wanted to do more? Could I send food, clothes? Could I go over to the ravaged valleys and help in some way, or would I get in the way?
I had these questions and many more and I thought it best that I find out from the man who might know such things better than most.

Dr. Chandan Ghosh, professor and Head of the Geo-Hazard Risk Management Division with the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) is a man who has been as vocal as a man in his capacity can be about pinning the rights and responsibilities of the calamitous tragedy on the high slopes in Uttarakhand. I thought he might be the one I could take my questions to but I wondered if he would have the time. Fortunately enough, Dr. Ghosh came on the line soon as I asked for him and I was asked to come in that afternoon if I could. These days he is usually in office all morning, noon and night, till about 10 pm, I was told. Rather heartening, I he thought, given the circumstances.

I spent a few hours trying to understand the scale of disaster that had struck the sacred mountains. But through the montage of crashing rocks and wrathful rivers, the carnage and corpses, the inconsolable agony of the bereaved and relieved survivors, the selfless Samaritans and those ubiquitous heroes in olive-greens, I still found it difficult to fathom the scale of the loss. I recently lost one of the most important people in my life, someone without whom I wouldn’t be, and yet I found my loss, howsoever great and insurmountable in this lifetime, pale in front of the burning tears of an old man who went to bed with a happy family, wife, daughter and grand-child, and woke up to a deafening roar to find himself all alone, his every reason to live swept away in the deluge. I prayed for the man to find strength, and for his family to find peace.

I went through articles that decried the near-illegal and unsanctioned hydel projects that were killing the rivers and ravaging the mountains. There were those that said that unplanned construction had destroyed the fragile mountains and this was a disaster that was waiting to happen. I wanted to know why no one could say ‘fix it now!’, instead of waiting to say, ‘See, I told you so…’

And so I went over to Dr. Ghosh’s office and entered a room where one could tell that the files don’t just sit around. He looked like a man who took his work seriously. And that was fine, for these were serious times. Matters began smoothly enough and he started off with orienting me about the NIDM and its inception. The whole story is a microcosm of our collective attitude towards disaster management. Mind you, I’m not blaming ‘our government’s attitude’ alone here, because though succeeding governments should bear the weight of yet another unfulfilled promise, we are the ones who have peopled these governments and also failed to demand this of the powers that be often o enough and consistently enough to effect a change.

Anyway, I could tell you more about it but you can read it all on the NIDM website. We moved on to the issue at hand. Dr. Ghosh wasn’t pulling punches. He laid out the predicament of an academic institution ‘entrusted with the responsibility for human resource development, capacity building, training, research, documentation and policy advocacy in the field of disaster management.’

NIDM’s role, he railed, had practically been reduced to filing reports. Building bylaws all across the country, be they government buildings or private, whether up in Kedarnath, or here in Central Delhi, are flouted with impunity, he said. Dr. Ghosh should know. He is a civil engineer and he specializes in earthquake geo-technology, having cut his teeth on doctorate programs in India as well as in that land that has forged and honed its disaster management skills on the anvil of recurring earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear holocausts – Japan.

“Deforestation (on the mountain slopes) isn’t really the problem (for landslides). It is the manner in which a mountain is cut to build roads… and there’s a simple solution if you want to stop the landslides. All you have to do is grow vetiver on the slopes.”

I must’ve seemed a little muddled and so Dr. Ghosh explained “….you know this grass called khus?” I nodded. “This grass can bind the soil and prevent soil erosion.” A little post interview research revealed that the Vetiver System is used around the world to prevent erosion and soil degradation on mountain slopes etc. I wondered aloud as to why then aren’t we using this grass to safeguard our roads, mountain villages and above all, our people who travel through or call this region their home...?

Dr. Ghosh just smiled a wry smile and shook his head. “No one likes this solution. It is too cheap and inexpensive.” I was shocked beyond words. Like the rest of my generation, I have come to expect corruption across the socio-political system, but to see such blatant callousness and disregard for life and property driven by greed still seemed difficult to digest. Yet again, it is our fault as a community that we choose to put up with this.

Here I must interrupt my account of our conversation and leave you with a simple list of things you could do if you want to help those whose lives have been scarred forever in this valley of the gods…

a. You could donate money to the Chief Minister’s Disaster Management Relief Fund.  (SBI a/c no. – 10587398235 FC code SBI N 0010164)

b. If the above doesn’t make a lot of sense you could reach a very helpful volunteer – Mr. Sushil Nautiyal at 9410198367. He or his colleagues will guide you through all you could do to help.

c. Besides money, you could also send clothes, blankets, umbrellas, stoves, dry foods and masala.

d. Dr. Chandan Ghosh also mentioned religious organizations like Shanti Kunj, based in Haridwar, helping out relatives of those who are stranded or have died on the mountains. These organizations need volunteers to help with communicating with concerned friends and relatives.

e.You could also reach the Garhwal Mandal and volunteer your services.

f. Please Note That The Roads Beyond Haridwar Have Been Closed Due To Incessant Rain And All Who Want To Volunteer Their Services Must Wait Till The 29th-30th Of June, Register And Check With Local Authorities And Agencies And Only Then Head Out To Help.

I will be back next week with the rest of our conversation. Until then, let’s do our bit for those who are suffering untold agonies on the slopes. Wishing them and those heroes who are risking their lives to save them an abundance of peace and strength…

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017