Dehradun: The destruction of the fragile Himalayan ecology, particularly in the Garhwal division of Uttarkhand had started much before this small mountain state was formed in Nov 2000. As a remote part of Uttar Pradesh, no government of the state or the bureaucracy cared a fig to the haphazard and rampant destruction of the fragile hill slopes and rampant construction on the banks of the rivers.
Clarifying on the allegations leveled by various sections that the recent tragedy was not a natural disaster but a man-made disaster, chief minister Vijay Bahuguna in an interview in a national daily went at length to say that his government was not at fault. If any the fault was of the central government and the union ministry of environment and forests.
“As far as my government is concerned, in the last one year no hotel has come up. In my tenure of 16 months, no hydel project has been commissioned. I have not given permission to any resort near a river. What has been done by my predecessors was with the approval of the ministry of environment and forests, govt of India. Why did they give permission?” He is reported to have said.
What the chief minister may be saying may be true and any permission given by his government for a resort or hydel project, will only be known after three or four years when they come up. But Mr Bahuguna, is it not a fact that you as head of the Uttarakhand government opposed the notification of the Eco-sensitive zone, which would have banned construction in the sensitively fragile area from Gangotri to Uttarkashi.
Is it not a fact Mr chief minister that you personally went to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and asked him to intervene in the matter, and get the notification withdrawn as it would bring development to a standstill in the region. Is its also not true, Mr Bahuguna that some of your cabinet colleagues, including Mr Harak Singh Rawat also went to the Prime Minister with a similar request, which shoed the intent of your government as far as the fragile ecology and environment of Uttarkhand is concerned.
It is also being alleged that despite being very sensitive to natural disasters the Uttarakhand government did not implement the guidelines given by the National Disaster Management Board, which is perhaps why the reason that though having a history of natural disasters behind it, the state did not wake up to the ground reality of a calamity of this magnitude happening in the near future.
Magsaysay Award winner Chandi Prasad Bhatt, who is credited of being one of the crusaders of the ‘chipko’ movement of the hills has gone on record to say that the Bhagirathi and Alaknanda have always been sensitive, flood prone rivers. On countless occasions the authorities were apprised of the damage happening along the rivers and necessary steps be taken to curb them, but nothing was done.
On the contrary what has come as a rude shock to many environmentalists and intellectuals of this small mountain state, is the fact that despite having some of the most renowned names as far as the environment of the hill is concerned, those of the like of Sundar Lal Bahuguna and Bhatt, yet no government of the state thought it proper to make an environment committee with these people as members to improve the environmental conditions.
It is also a well known fact that most of the resorts, hotels and guest houses that have come up after encroaching upon the river beds and their banks are not of the sons of the soil, but businessmen from outside Uttarkhand. It is also well known that the authorities that be looked the other way when these illegal constructions were coming up, and no government, after Uttarkhand was made dared to get a survey done of the encroachments and illegal constructions.
Mr Bahuguna says that his government in its 16 months in office gave no permission for such resorts or projects along or on the rivers, but did his government even try to know the magnitude of the tragedy that could fall upon the state because of the illegal constructions and get a survey done so that the illegal ones, whih had choked the flow of the rivers, could be removed.
One can understand that the state is reeling under a mammoth problem and it will be a Herculean task to put the infrastructure back on the tracks. Though quite a many of the buildings that had encroached upon the banks and river beds have been demolished in the recent floods, would it not be wise Mr chief minister to get a survey conducted even now, along the banks of all the rivers of the state and get such resorts and buildings demolished, to prevent a repeat of another tragedy in another river valley of Uttarakhand.