The nature’s fury witnessed in Uttarakhand is a clear lesson for man that Nature does not tolerate exploitation for long and it ‘pays back with interest’ very soon. The recent devastation is so huge that no agency could calculate the actual loss of lives and property even after four days of the calamity. Heart-rending and nerve-wracking news is coming daily. The latest figures show that 60 villages, 200 dharmashalas and many hotels were completely washed away, thousands of pilgrims are missing and about a lakh are stranded. The army and voluntary organisations like the RSS are engaged day and night in the rescue operations.
This catastrophe in the Himalayas can be said to be caused by the huge damage to which nature has been subjected in the region. We have arrested the natural flow of the rivers through dams and other activities undertaken by the land, sand and stone mafias. Not only the forests have been ruined, but also the river banks have been encroached unmindfully. The condition at all the pilgrimage places or tourist spots is almost the same. In Gangotri, where there is a ban even on cooking, some people are freely running dhabas by using LPG, which causes immense damage to the glaciers. The sadhana-sthali of Rishis and Sadhus has been converted into picnic resorts – a place of pleasure-seeking gallants. Many saints and VHP leaders raised concerns from time to time, but every time the government turned a deaf ear to their concerns. The Himalayan region was known for its spiritual sanctity and natural abundance, but unfortunately the government has started permitting hotels, resorts, sports centres and such other mundane affairs that are gradually destroying the environment, atmosphere and spiritual sacredness of the place.
At least now, we will have to rethink over the large-scale construction of hydro-power projects in the Himalayas. For building dams or carrying out other construction activities the mountains are blasted with dynamites, which ultimately weaken the entire mountain range. We must realise that allowing so many hydro-power projects on the rivers in the Himalayas was a blunder. We became blind for material, even though we were constantly being cautioned by the noted environmentalists like Prof GD Agrawal, Sunderlal Bahuguna, Uma Bharati and many others. Prof. Agrawal observed fast unto death in Uttarkashi and Allahabad, Uma Bharati undertook awareness drive from Gangasagar to Uttarkashi and also observed fasts. But the huge assurances given to them during their fasts never materialised.
Our holy centre of faith – the ancient Kedarnath temple—which never faced any damage in the past, has now submerged almost half into the mud and sands. In fact, our profit-making attitude has caused irreparable damage. Not only the small dhaba venders but also the big businessmen miss no opportunity to make money here. A notification is still awaiting implementation in Gangotri region to declare the whole areas as eco-zone. But successive governments never acted upon it. Reason, it would seriously affect developmental activities in the region. Three years back the CAG had also warned the state government of impending catastrophe due to unmindful development projects in the state. But no attention was paid. What is needed today is that the development must be in sync with the Nature.
Protecting rivers and Nature is the collective responsibility of all. Many countries in the world have done it successfully. Britain revived the Thames River in London and Russia protected the Moskva River in Moscow. Then why can’t we protect our Ganga and other rivers?
The damage to forests in the Himalayas is huge. Not only for wood, the forests were also ruined for setting up residential colonies, building roads, bridges, hotels or creating other infrastructure. Interestingly, those who are working to restore these forests in the region are repeatedly discouraged and sometimes even harassed by different agencies. All such people or voluntary organisations should be encouraged and supported.
We must also control the duration of the yatras in the Himalayan region, and put a check on hydro-power and industrial projects, as well as deforestation. We must improve the infrastructure and medical facilities and arrest the mushrooming of private hotels, resorts, etc. Our disaster management system is so weak that it is always caught unprepared. Whenever there is any tragedy, we seek the help of army, ITBP or voluntary organisations for relief and rescue operations. The disaster management must be seen ready in practice and not on papers only. Releasing compensation to the victims or their family members from PM or CM relief fund after the catastrophe is also not a solution. An effective mechanism should come up to ensure that the loss of lives and property is minimal during any calamity.