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Rage of The River - Mahtab Alam - The Sunday Indian
 
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LITERATURE

Rage of The River

 

NATURE STRIKES BACK
MAHTAB ALAM | Issue Dated: October 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : Rage of The River | Who Dug This Grave | Long Years of Struggles |
 

NATURE STRIKES BACK

Rage of The River

Author : Hridayesh Joshi and Penguin Books

Edition: Paperback

ISBN:9780143425748

Pages:209

Price:Rs 399

Three years ago, in June 2013, when a multi-day cloudburst took place in the Kedarnath region of Uttarakhand, causing massive floods and landslides which led to the massive devastation of human lives, cultural and historical sites on a large scale, many thought it was completely a natural disaster. And that nothing was possible to avoid something like this – well, who could intervene and stop God’s will!? Right?... Umm, perhaps not.

Not all are ready to buy this theory fully, especially those who have lived in the region and followed its development over the years. Journalist and author Hridayesh Joshi is one amongst them, and he gives reasons to do so.

Joshi is of the view that the disaster could have been averted if not totally stopped as the disaster, as per him, was more of a man made one than natural. Originally from Uttarakhand itself, NDTV Hindi journalist Joshi reported on the Kedarnath disaster from the thick of it for weeks and his was the first team of national media to arrive there and witness the devastation.

Rage of The River is the result of his reflections combined with extensive field work and research on socio-political, environmental and historical aspects of the disaster. While the author starts with the reporting on disaster, he quickly moves in to the realm of policies and politics of environmental management and mismanagement in India.

The book is as much as a reporter’s diary as much a commentary on what led to the disaster and how people are coping with it in the aftermath. What is remarkable about the book is that, unlike most of the first person accounts, people and the issues faced by them are in the centre of discussion instead of the writer itself.

The author is quite scathing and rightly so in his approach when it comes to the valid criticism. So much so he does not even spare his own community—media, especially national TV channels.

The book covers a whole range of issues, from the aftermath of the disaster to the making of it, to grief and pain of the survivors, to the why did it happen in the first place and also the long history of the environmental movement in the region. Chapter 8 (Who Dug This Grave?) and 9 (Long Years of Struggles) are the most fascinating segments of the book as in these two lie the core of the book.

While chapter 8 traces the history of disasters in the state and response of the government, chapter 9 documents various movements for environment protection. Towards the end of the book, he presents a road ahead based on his understanding, observations, and interactions with locals, experts as well as those struggling for the environmental protection in the region for decades.

Commenting on the history of disasters and its linkages with state response, the author notes, “In the last few years, natural disasters have increased both in frequency and intensity. In other words, disasters are recurring and taking on monstrous proportions. People in the hills are forced to live in the miserable conditions because, despite the destructions, the administration only takes steps that are cosmetic in nature and soon, the episode is forgotten”.

According to the author, that’s partly because the government of Uttarakhand has no specific policy for development and planned construction keeping the environmental issues in mind. “Administrators and planners have turned a blind eye to the hard facts and statistics, and media has also failed to report on the gradual degradation of the Himalayas.”

Explaining the reasons behind the such sorry state of affairs, Joshi notes, “The state leaders are themselves involved in the hospitality and real estate (business), both overtly and covertly; no one actively discourages illegal construction.”

Moreover, the “big players in real estate and the hotel industry have, of late, also gained political prominence.” In short, there is a nexus between political power and people with pure business interest. In fact, at times, there is no difference between the two. He further notes, this is not the belief of only those who are brushed aside as the ‘anti-dam/power project lobby’ or the ‘NGO mafias’, but the opinion of some of the countries most respected geologists and scientists. Throughout the book, the writer ably presents his arguments using data, quoting scientific research and reports published by the government and its various agencies apart the ones prepared and published by non-governmental oganisations and independent experts.

And he has tried to substantiate every observation with some evidence or the other. This is what makes the book reliable and very useful. The afterword by noted activist and environment crusader, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, is a value add to the book as it lends another level of credibility to the book. Needless to say, it is a must read book for anyone who cares about the environment and is looking for an easy to read and understand book.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017