A trigger for change
Dr Bharat Jhunjhunwala
The cloudburst in Uttarakhand has left a trail of destruction. But there is a silver lining. It gives us an opportunity to rebuild our society afresh in keeping with the changed circumstances. Oftentimes things change in an imperceptible manner and mankind cannot understand that his lifestyle has become out of sync with nature. Natural disasters can be a boon in disguise if one rebuilds according to the new circumstance indicated by Mother Nature.
Our ancestors of the Indus Valley made grand cities like Kalibangan on the banks of the Ghaggar River. This river used to carry the waters of the Sutlej and the Yamuna. Then there was a tectonic uplift of the land between Panipat and Chandigarh. This led to the Yamuna flowing east and the Sutlej joining the Beas. The Ghaggar was deprived of most of its waters. Life in the Kalibangan and other nearby cities came to a virtual halt. The people did persist in living at Kalibangan. They took the lesson provided by Nature and migrated to the Ganga Basin and rebuilt another grand civilisation culminating in the Mauryan Empire of Ashoka. The people recognised that circumstances had changed and built their lives afresh on a grander scale.
Other stories have not had such happy endings. The Banqiao Dam was made on Huai River in China in 1950 to control floods. A bigger-than-expected flood took place in 1975. The Dam broke leading to downstream failure of 62 smaller dams. A wave about 5 meters high and 10 km wide flowed down and the resulting flood led to death of about 170,000 persons. But the Chinese Government persisted in building yet more dams and embankments to control floods. Result has been a series of disasters. Dams continue to break and downstream rivers are dying leading to huge environmental costs. Now, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is helping China make a new policy of ‘Living with the Floods.’
ADB has recommended that people be taught to live with the flood. The ADB says: “People and governments need to recognize that flood risks cannot be eliminated entirely. Instead, people should learn to accept some degree of the risks and, in return, derive benefits from floods such as improved soil fertility, provision of opportunities for food and materials, sustenance of aquatic and riparian ecosystems, and richness of the whole river environment.” Here is a case where man persisted in his efforts to tread against the will of Nature and had to ultimately retract after much suffering. The lesson is clear: Natural calamities have to be taken as a forewarning given by nature to man: Change your ways or suffer.
That is how we must understand the disaster in Uttarakhand. Nature is saying it does not like our ways. Helicopters were disturbing the microclimate of the area. Tourists posing as pilgrims had converted the Holy Shrine into a pleasure-making resort. Pandas were fleecing pilgrims. Hydropower companies were blasting into the mountains to make tunnels; and depositing muck into the river. More blasting was being done to make roads. All this was done for securing economic growth. But it has led to economic disaster. Huge costs have been incurred by the people, the State Government and the Central Government in wake of the disaster. The economic gains made in the last many years have been wiped out in mere two days.
We should convert this crisis into an opportunity. Economist Joseph Schumpeter had coined the phrase ‘creative destruction.’ He said that capitalism ever creates new technologies that lead to certain old sectors dying out. The assembly line led to thousands of blacksmiths engaged in making horse carriages losing their livelihood. The internet has led to end of the telegraph. Schumpeter said that these changes should be taken positively despite the suffering that it entails. By adopting new technologies we move to a higher plateau. Change is the essence of life.
The old model of hill development has been destroyed by nature just as the trade of blacksmiths was destroyed by the motor car. The choice before us is to adopt new ways and create a new model that takes us to a higher plateau; or persist in the old mold and bring more wrath of nature upon us.
Uttarakhand is presently following the hydropower-cum-manufacturing model. Rivers are being harnessed to generate electricity. This electricity is being supplied to the industries that are being set up in the plains. Industries are also entitled to tax exemptions for 10 years. They are coming to Uttarakhand because electricity and tax exemptions are available. This looks fine for the present but this will not sustain after the tax exemptions come to an end. Experience of other states like Goa shows that most industries flee after this happens. Secondly, economic growth is increasingly coming from the services sector. The share of agriculture is declining, that of manufacturing is stable and that of services is increasing. In due time manufacturing will also begin to shrink as has happened in developed countries like the United States. Third problem is that Uttarakhand does not have a Unique Selling Point for manufacturing. An industrialist will find it easier to set up the same industry in Ghaziabad or Surat. Spare parts and skilled labour is more easily available here. Fourth problem is that destruction of the rivers will hit at the potential of the state in the services sector. Pristine rivers will no longer be available on the banks of which universities and hospitals could be established. Thus, after 25 years Uttarakhand will be left with empty industrial estates and broken rivers. Most importantly it would have lost the opportunity to emerge as a better alternative to Switzerland as a global tourist destination.
Uttarakhand Government is not interested in adopting this futuristic model. Reason is that huge monies are to be made in the hydropower-cum-manufacturing model. Knowledgeable sources tell me that Ministers are taking a bribe of Rs one crore per Megawatt for signing agreement with hydropower companies. Then they make money is allotment of land to the industries. The disasters that ensure are also profitable for them. They make monies in distribution of relief. None of these incomes would accrue to the Ministers in the services sector model.
The new model may have the following contours: One, reduce environment load on the mountains by requiring simple lifestyles in the pilgrim centres. Two, no helicopters to be used for travel. Three, strengthen and protect the forests by plantation and by prohibiting all blasting. Four, make earthquake resistant homes. Five, develop the hill areas’ potential in the services sectors such as in health, education and software. These will provide high incomes for a long time to come. The environmental load will be less. Services sector will provide sustainable economic growth and save our future generations from such catastrophes.
Jyotishpeeth Shankaracharya Swami Madhavashram said the growing political influence in the management of four prominent shrine of Uttarakhand is causing havoc and it should stop forthwith. He said religious scholars should be included in the temple committees.
Referring to the present disaster in Uttarakhand, he said perversion of ancient Sanatan Hindu traditions also played a role in the destruction. He said the pilgrimage must not be perverted into tourism. He said the Char Dham shrines have their own hallowed spiritual traditions, which were aimed at the welfare of people and society at large. “Dharmshalas should be built at pilgrimage centres instead of hotels built on the western model because those undertaking pilgrimage should have renunciation, surrender and respect for traditions,” he said.
Time to set-up separate ministry for Himalayan states
Former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Maj Gen (retd) BC Khanduri urged the central Government to establish a separate ministry for Himalayan states so that the development activities could easily be taken without disturbing flora and fauna of the region. Expressing grief over the causalities in the recent disaster, Shri Khanduri stressed that if the Centre took steps by setting up separate ministry for the Himalayan region the flora and fauna could be easily preserved in the Himalayan States.
Demanding hi-tech equipments for weather forecast, the former CM stressed the need to sensitise the masses about the pros and cons of eco-sensitive zone before implementing it. Eexpressing concern over the poor condition of roads along Char Dham Yatra route Shri Khanduri lamented that poor and irregular funding to Border Roads Organisation (BRO) led to such a situation. “Despite the fact that financial budget of BRO is between Rs 200-300 crore, the Organisation hardly received Rs 40 crore in the last financial year.”
He said the Congress Government lacks vision for carrying rescue and relief operation in the disaster hit areas. He said the Char Dham Yatra could be easily resumed within a year if the government takes concrete plans to re-construct infrastructure and roads along the Yatra route.
He said the BJP MLAs MPs and party workers have been carrying out rescue operations right from the day one. Party workers have been directed at district level to extend maximum assistance to save the lives of the victims.