Dehradun : Terming the recent macabre tragedy in Uttarakhand as an “ecological and environmental disaster” and not a natural disaster, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has issued a show cause notice to the Uttarakhand government, union environment ministry, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Indian Meteorological Department to justify the rampant construction and self-styled development activity in this small mountain state.
This has sent a ray of hope amongst the local population as to how permission was given randomly for the construction of huge resorts, guest houses and hotels along the banks of the rivers in the upper reaches, some of them literally on the river beds, mostly to money bags from outside the state and those with politically clout. Importantly it will help nail the ‘babudom’ that gave permission left and right without taking the fragile ecology into consideration.
The Tribunal has asked the central agencies and the state government for the proof that rampant road and building construction had adhered to master and zonal plans and if a damage assessment was done.
This will help expose how roads were made to link the large number of houses, resorts and hotels of the money bags and VVIPs in the hill district of Uttarakhand, which were done more for the convenience of a few, rather the villagers.
But what is astounding is the fact that despite there being orders since the time when the region was a part of Uttar Pradesh that no construction could take place within a distance of 200 metres of rivers like the Ganga and its major tributaries, rampant construction was not allowed, but permission given by concerned authorities by closing their eyes.
Needless to say that most of the permissions were given by officers who did not belong to Uttarkhand and had no qualms of the fragile ecology and environment being disturbed.
This is not all. Even the orders of the Nainital High Court given in the interest of the people of the state were ignored by the ‘babudom’ to favour the money bags and VVIPs.
The High Court had ordered in Feb 2003 that all constructions made after 2000 in a distance of 200 metres from the Ganga be demolished. But till the day the tragedy struck Uttarakhand, the concerned officials had not even listed such constructions, leave aside demolishing them.
And while the money bags and VVIPs took the pride of the places along the river banks and on the river beds itself in the higher and picturesque regions of the state, the state government, rather than obeying the law, happens to be one of the biggest violators itself and allowed others to do so with impunity right under its nose. Surprisingly neither the ministers, nor the ‘babudom’ thought it proper to bring it to the notice of the concerned authorities.
According to reports, in the state capital itself, right under the nose of the government, there are more than 150 slum colonies and more than 30,000 government and private buildings that have come up along the banks of rivers and streams.
Some of them are so perilously made, that should there be a cloudburst or heavy rains, Dehradun could face its worst ever disaster. Even Universities, vidhan sabha building and other state headquarters oif various departments have been made along banks.
Nothing seems to surprise as far as the government is concerned in Uttarakhand. Now the state cabinet, following the recent worst-ever tragedy, decided to which affect an announcement was also made by the chief minister himself, that no construction will be allowed along the banks of the rivers.
He forgot that there is already an order to affect, banning any construction within a distance of 200 metres.
Incidentally realizing that he is in a catch-22 situation following the gruesome tragedy, as not only the Congress high command, but even the pilgrims who were evacuated and the affected villagers of the state have been critical of the state government handled the situation during the past fortnight.
Chief minister Vijay Bahguguna is now evading ticklish questions. “The time now is not to point out the flaws, but to provide relief to the people and all questions will be answered in three months”, is what he has been reported to have said on the drawbacks in handling the situation.
But the patience of the people at the ship shod manner in which the situation is being handled by the state government and its machinery, is running out.
This is evident from the fact that the district magistrate Uttarkashi, R Rajesh Kumar and SDM Bhatwari K K Singh were ghearoed by the people when they went to examine the land being eroded by the Bhagirathi river Manikaran ghat and another ghat.
The situation reached such a stage as the angry people almost became violent and started pushing and abusing the senior officers of the administration, that police force was summoned and the situation eased.
But the people apparently now, after the recent tragedy, realizing that it is eventually they who suffer, both in terms of life and property, have decided not to take things lying down, which is perhaps why the business establishments announced that they will down their shutters in protest.
A journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt was Editor, Hill Post (Uttarakhand).
Jagdish had worked with India’s leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications. A highly acclaimed journalist, he was a recipient of many awards
Jagdish Bhatt, aged 72, breathed his last on 28th August 2021 at his Dehradun residence.