Cover Story: Waiting for another disaster?
Even after one year of the Kedarnath tragedy, which claimed the lives of thousands of pilgrims and still many dead bodies are buried in the debris, nobody in the government can claim they are fully prepared to save the lives of people if similar or even bigger tragedy occurs in the Himalayan state. However, the state government of Uttarakhand makes tall claims regarding the pilgrimage, the fact is that we are sitting at the verge of even bigger tragedy during this rainy season only.
After the cloud burst last year the Mandakini and Swargdwari rivers diverted their routes and deposited huge silt in the old route. Now, if that silt is not removed before the outset of rainy season diverting the river flow, the Mandakini, can even wipe out the Kedarnath temple registering even bigger tragedy that the world witnessed last year. People like me are worried over this carelessness on the part of the state government. It seems the government itself is waiting for even a bigger tragedy.
Worshiped as one among the 12 Jyotirlingas situated at the height of 12000 feet, Kedarnath temple has been built many times from Satyuga to Dwapar. It was built by the Pandwas so strong that no natural disaster like earthquake, floods or landslide could harm it. However, the growing consumerist culture has caused much damage not only the temple but also the entire ecology of the region. The temple is visited by huge number of pilgrims every year. But the last year’s tragedy has drastically reduced this number this year.
Mandakini glacier is also called as ‘boiling ocean’ in the local parlance. There are some ponds even beneath the Mandikini glacier. There are apprehensions that with the melting of the glacier, the glacier site can shift building pressure to temple site. Some years back a wall was constructed for security of the site. But with the passage of time the concrete wall lost its strength. There seems to be no alertness in the administration to repair that wall also.
The ecology is also getting affected with the climate change and global warming. During the last year’s tragedy, even the ponds beneath the glacier burst causing huge damage in the region. What happened then is known to all. If the army, local people and the voluntary organisations did not join hands in rescue operation, the loss of lives could have been much more. Now the pilgrimage has resumed but only through the temporary routes as many roads are yet to be built. The pilgrims walk on their own risks and having faith in the Lord Kedarnath.
Today the biggest challenge is to save and preserve the Kedarnath temple site, defuse the pressure building due to melting of Mandakini glacier and diverting the flow of the river. The task has been assigned to the experts of Nehru Mountaineering Institute (NMI). They are seen working, but they do not have the requisite technical expertise and machines. Without machines this work cannot be finished timely. It needs to be done under the supervision of a high level committee of technocrats, geological experts, archeologists, environmentalists. There is a dire need to unfold a layout of the Kedarnath temple site and a master plan for development from Gaurikund to Kedarnath. Apart from rehabilitating the local people, compensating the victims and reconstructing the roads, equally important is renovating the temples. The government must also take effective steps to make the disaster management active.
-Mohan Singh Rawat ‘Gaonwasi’(The writer is noted environmentalist and former Minister in Uttarakhand government)