[Purushottam Sharma is a member of the Uttarakhand State Committee of CPI(ML)]
The entire picture of the devastating disaster in Uttarakhand has not yet unfolded. The reports and details so far coming out are related to the Chardham pilgrim centres and their connecting routes. Reports of 75000 persons missing and hundreds dead are only an estimation of numbers with regard to pilgrims. Nobody so far has had the time to consider the fate of the local people and villages which have suffered heavily due to the disaster and they seem to figure nowhere in the rescue and relief operations of the State government. Scenes from the disaster indicate that the number of dead must be in thousands, but our laws count only an actually recovered dead body as ‘dead’. Now who can search for and bring forth those thousands of dead bodies from the furious laps of the Alaknanda, Bhagirathi and Gauri so that our laws can count them as ‘dead’?
Without doubt, the Army and the jawans of the ITBP are conducting these rescue and relief operations with full intensity. Their priority is to save the lives of the stranded pilgrims and to open up the roads so that the rescue teams and relief provisions can reach the affected areas. But the scale of destruction is such that it could take months to reach many of the affected areas. In this situation it is essential to double the number of helicopters so that medicines, clothes, tarpaulins and provisions can be supplied to the remote villages which are away from the pilgrim routes and the Army can rescue all the victims as soon as possible. It must be kept in mind that in most places the victims are stranded and struggling for their lives without medical aid or provisions.
The State government cannot hide behind the veil of ‘natural disaster and tragedy’ to hide its criminal and irresponsible behaviour. In this day and age of modern technology and meteorological prediction techniques, loss of life and property could have been minimized if proper and timely action had been taken. Much before the disaster, the Meteorological department had stated that a western depression was active in the mountain areas and that the monsoon would arrive a week earlier than scheduled. With the western depression and the monsoon both active together, heavy rains and cloudbursts are only to be expected. In these circumstances, the Chardham pilgrimage should have been stopped a day earlier and an alert should have been put out for people to return from sensitive areas to safer places. However, this did not happen and as always this shameless and anti-people government and its bureaucracy are now looking eagerly to reap the fruits of this disaster.
Two examples of the insensitivity of the Uttarakhand government towards natural disaster situations are worth pointing out. Three years ago the Meteorological department of the Central government had requisitioned land in Mussoorie and Nainital to set two radars in the State to gather information for climatic predictions but these lands still remain unsanctioned. Also, 243 villages affected by natural disasters had been chosen in 2010 for evacuation and rehabilitation. By March 2013 this number had increased to 550 villages. However, till date only one single village Chhatikhal (Rudraprayag) has been rehabilitated and that too only partially. After the creation of the State, the governments of Uttarakhand are doing nothing but ravaging the lands on the one hand and complaining that land is not available for rehabilitation, on the other. Meanwhile these governments have allowed about one lakh hectares of priceless lands to be looted by capitalists, corporate, builders, religious and social institutions, bureaucrats and leaders.
The more there is flooding in the mountains, the deeper the rivers become. This can be confirmed by looking at the rivers on which hydel projects have not yet been constructed. If today, after the disaster, the riversides have gathered 8 to 10 ft. of sediment and debris, it is because of the effluents illegally dumped into the rivers by the tunnel-based hydel projects. These electrical power companies should be made to pay for the sins they have committed with an eye for greedy profiteering. The greed for tourism-generated profits has caused a veritable race for State-facilitated capture of lands, mountains and forests in Uttarakhand. It is not a surprising sight to see such improperly constructed buildings collapse and be carried away by the river. It is imperative that accountability be fixed for this loss of life and property caused by this State sponsored labyrinth of corruption and wrongdoing.