Monday, July 8, 2013


Suman Sahai

Many of us who live and work in Uttarakhand have seen this disaster coming. Environmental groups have tried, unsuccessfully, to warn of the coming tragedy but no one was listening. Iam not sure they are listening now either. Their eyes glazed over with the prospect of billions to be made from the rape of the Himalayas and the destruction of the livelihoods of the mountain people, the builders, contractors and their partners in crime in Dehradun and Delhi are not deterred by this blip of human and environmental catastrophe .
Those in Delhi can take solace in the fact that the Tehri dam , that swollen grenade waiting to burst its casing, is still standing. It may not be standing in its quiet corner for very long  in the youngest, most fragile mountain of the world,  if the  relentless assault on the Himalayas  continues. The fractured rocks of this young and still emerging mountain range, considered exceedingly fragile and unstable by geologists, will not be able to withstand  the instability caused by repeated blasting of the mountains to make roads, resorts and installations. The day the Tehri  dam collapses, the waters, it is anticipated, will reach Delhi, totally submerging Haridwar and Rishikesh  and sweeping aside everything  in its path.
A friend described a  trip to Uttarkashi  where they had gone to make a collection of botanical specimens last year . As they rattled along in their government issue jeep,  they heard a rumbling, then sounds like thunder claps and in seconds a river of rocks and stones poured down the hillside. They were in the way and it was because the driver practically  stood on the brakes that the jeep stopped a whisker short. What shook the travellers was the speed and velocity with which huge boulders and rocks came down. It was the speed with which the rocks and slush poured into Kedarnath this time  that left no time for escape.
 The contractor who had nearly killed this team of scientists came running to apologise.  He admitted that they would be blasting at several  sites and was shaken enough to confess that no safety norms were adhered to,  to cut costs. He added that by the time he had greased palms from top to bottom, to get the contract, his operating budget was considerably reduced and if he did not cut corners, he could not complete the work and make his (substantial) profit . We know this modus  from many other schemes and projects where bridges and houses collapse, roads get washed away and people lose their lives.  In this grotesque  business scheme where an unscrupulous nexus of the ungodly rake in milions , loss of human lives and property is par for the course.
Tubewells are being dug through the fragile geological layers in Uttarakhand  in perversely designed programs to provide drinking water. The current administration has refused to listen to geologists who have warned that fracturing layers of  rock , going down several hundred feet in this manner  was a recipe for disaster since the drilling would destabilize the formations and cause instability.
I am filled with apprehension  when I read that Rs 1000 crore have been allocated for the rehabilitation of Uttarakhand and appeals have been sent out in the name of the Chief minister’s Fund, the Prime Minister’s Fund  and so forth. The people of this country have begun to pour in contributions to help the people of Uttarakhand  rebuild their lives. On the other hand, speculation is already on about how much of the 1000 crore grant  will be siphoned off along the chain of bureaucrats , politicians and their partners in crime, with estimates  going  up to 800 to 900 crores!  Some fat cats are going to get fatter and the lives of the poor mountain people will not improve. Some roads  will be patched up to get washed away next monsoon, some families will get a tenth of their entitlement to rebuild  a room or two in their houses. Fake registers will be filled up to show relief materials have been delivered to ‘beneficiaries- that dreadful word. And the sleazy and powerful in India will continue to build empires on the misery  of the poor.

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