Media reports speculate that the toll of the tragedy would run into thousands. The wrath of nature seems like revenge from the gods. Both the two Himalayan states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, where havoc has been wreaked by the early monsoon rains,
should have read the warning signs of the impending doom.
Agreed that the fragile nature of the geologically young Himalayan range has very poor soil stability on its steep slopes, and landslides and flash floods are not an uncommon phenomenon. The original inhabitants of the areas, be it the nomadic tribesmen or the people of the small towns, adapted their living habits and settlements in sync with nature. Flooding occurred, but not on this catastrophic scale. The wooded hills with their strong trees checked many a landslide. Even in its landlocked state for months, the locals had developed the resilience of survival in a harsh environment.
Today, it is man-made factors that have compounded the scale of destruction. The profusion of hydro-power projects, construction of roads to accommodate ever-increasing tourism, especially seasonal religious tourism, adopting of non-traditional building techniques, large-scale encroachments on the river bed and banks, slum clusters, etc. are major causes for the huge human price that we shall pay for this tragedy. The haphazardness of the habitations was evidently seen even in the ruins. So much damage was avoidable if even little efforts had been put in place.
The carrying capacity of the Himalaya should be properly assessed. The roads that have been cut into the mountainside carry heavy loads of vehicles, machinery and traffic. This makes them unstable. The
entire ecology of the mountains has been destroyed.
The price for unchecked and unplanned promotion of tourism has been paid. The sheer number of stranded vehicles, and the visuals of the ones that were washed away, show the extent of vehicular traffic. The riverside multi storied hotels and houses were sitting ducks, more than 300 were washed away. Even helipads and army camps had been made in vulnerable places. There was no disaster management plan in place. The whole administration was thrown into a panic mode. With the rescuing of the 80,000 stranded people proving to be a Herculean task, many unnecessary avoidable causalities must have occurred. The fate of the hundreds missing and the endless wait their families will endure is heartbreaking.
One cannot ignore the fact that these two states have borders with a hostile enemy. The strategic importance of communication and logistics should have been kept in mind. The sheer callousness and helplessness of the administration in handling the tragedy rings warning bells. It seems that no preparedness was in place, the officials just ran helter shelter and confusion prevailed in the early vital hours of the apocalypse.
A proper comprehensive long-term plan, keeping in mind the climatic conditions of the area, should be implemented. Proper meteorological stations for forecasting should be put up. Unchecked growth, both in infrastructure and population, should be stopped. We should take lessons from the Swiss for their rescue and recovery systems in the Alps.
It is only hoped that this is a lesson for the future. The blame game is on. The Centre will try to score brownie points by sanctioning largesse in the form of relief. They cannot blame the state governments, as both are Congress-ruled states.
There will be massive reconstruction and redevelopment in the area in the years to come. At least, this time the administration should ensure that planned and sustainable methods be adopted.