“Development fundamentalism, combined with religious tourism” is being touted widely by concerned citizens as the primary reasons behind the catastrophic disaster unfolding in Uttarakhand. In the massive cloudburst that has caused huge floods and dangerous landslides, over 50,000 pilgrims to Kedarnath and Badrinath have been left stranded, even after the rescue operations for the last couple of days has reportedly helped thousands to be evacuated.
The number of casualties, as in deaths, is naturally not clear, as is the case with most disasters. But it is gradually unfolding that it will be a significant number, especially after 90 pilgrim lodges were washed away. The rescue operations were understandably hampered with roads rendered inaccessible.
While the mainstream parties are busy engaging in their routine mud slinging and mutual blame games, voices of concern are raising doubts over the swiftness and adequacy of aid and rescue machinery. The Supreme court also directed the state and central governments to step up the pace and efficacy of the aid and rescue operations, since many pilgrims are still in danger of losing lives due to the elements or even due to lack of food, water and medicines.
Army, paramilitary and emergency response team personnel and helicopters and other aerial support like sorties have been deployed to help rescuers. Dramatic visuals of houses collapsing, villages getting flooded, shrines and statues getting submerged and ongoing rescue operations have emerged.
Google’s Person Finder is a search application that will help relatives of people trapped in the disaster to search for their near and dear ones. Besides, Google has also come out with a map application to help pin point updates about weather, road conditions etc. to help those concerned about the Uttarakhand floods.
Rescue personnel have found 41 bodies in Haridwar today only, and many more are likely to be found in the slush.
A Man Made Disaster ?
Is it merely a case of natural disaster? Or is it a man made disaster? Even Times Now, the corporate owned media which has usually Arnab Goswami flaring his nostrils over trivial matters and often giving things a totally biased and flawed color, was forced to initiate a debate on this matter in the 9pm show Newshour. While Sunita Narain’s arguments against illegal construction, sand mining along the eco sensitive zones could hardly be disputed by any of the Congress and BJP leaders, for either of the parties stand to benefit from the mafia involved in such gross illegalities, it was interesting to see a BJP leader infuriated at a comment by Medha Patkar when she pointed out how political parties are to be held responsible for encouraging religious pilgrimages which in turn creates the market for the illegally constructed hotels and lodges. Her statement is corroborated by facts presented in a Times of India article titled “Uttarakhand disaster got magnified due to heavy pilgrim rush” only:
The number of tourists going to Uttarakhand, state records show, has grown by nearly 300% over a decade between 2000-2010 from 1.11 crore to 3.11 crore. The number of tourists visiting the state is projected to double again by 2017 at current growth rates.
The BJP leader started shouting at the top of her lungs, saying that pilgrimage cannot be stopped. Too bad though, that the huge rush of pilgrims is quite possibly going to be checked in the coming two or three years, because of the extensive damage caused.
Several keys factors, according to Down to Earth, which indicate that the Uttarakhand floods are a man made disaster:
- Huge rush of pilgrims
- Construction of roads destabilize the mountains
- The number of registered vehicles in the state, especially those meant for tourists jumped dramatically in recent years, adding to the wear and tear of the terrain .
- Thoughtless construction of dams, thanks to the neo liberal market funda[mentalism], through as many as 70 power projects, has required modification of key tributaries, diverting to tunnels and reservoirs. Bhagirathi, Alakananda and other smaller tributaries will be affected heavily.
- Due to the cutting of mountains it is no surprise that landslides are more common than ever.
It should come as no surprise that there was “cumulative neglect of environmental concerns” as has been pointed out in CAG report. Of course, this report was not paid heed.
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