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Issue 45
, 2013
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Public Lecture On Uttarakhand Tragedy: Man Made or Natural

Source: Toxics Link, Date: , 2013

The recent catastrophic flash-floods has left the holy land of pilgrims, Uttarakhand, inundated and barren, leaving behind nothing but dilapidated relics, heaps of mud, boulders and the dead. The loss of life and property has been enormous and the damage would take years to recover.

Although the calamity that wrecked Uttarakhand was natural, caused by cloud burst and flash floods, nevertheless the impact on human life and property is testimony to years of haphazard and illogical development this region has seen. Environmental laws and requirements had been violated with impunity. Indiscriminate urbanization, unabated expansion of power projects, mining, cutting of trees, illegal encroachments, broadening of roads and tunnels and the illegal constructions in the fragile eco-sensitive zone, are said to be a cause.

As Uttarakhand grapples with one of the worst natural disasters the State has faced in recent years, questions need to be raised on how far of the destruction was preventable, and if this is a warning for the future. It is in this light that Toxics Link in collaboration with India International Center organized a Public Lecture on ‘Uttarakhand Tragedy: Man Made or Natural’ on 13th August,2013.

The discussion was preceded a video clip about the disaster. The panel included eminent speakers like Prof. Chandra Shekhar Dubey (Prof. & Head, Department of Geology, University of Delhi), Dr. Chandan Ghosh (Head of the Geo-Hazard Risk Management Division, NIDM), Himanshu Thakkar (Coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams,Rivers & People) while the discussion was moderated by Mr. Ravi Agarwal (Director, Toxics Link).

Mr. Agarwal opened the discussion by stating the need to rethink about the ecological landscapes and the need to deal with the policy and legislations. Expressing deep resentment he noted that it is unfortunate that we don’t have the time to pause and think about these issues. In cases of Uttrakhand tragedy it is only when the disaster came to the fore that we started contemplating and discussing about the issue, despite the fact that the disaster had been in making for quite some time.

Briefing on the shoddy monitoring system, Mr.Thakkar pointed that lack of co ordination among IMD, NDMA and the Uttrakhand government largely compounded to the enormous scale of disaster. Advance measures on the part of administration could have saved many lives; he noted despite heavy rains which had started on 15th June itself and despite the fact that by 16th June the river was already in its full spate, no actions were taken by the administration. Even the primer flood forecasting institute of India, the Central Water Commission which is the highest technical body of water resources in India and is responsible for forecasting floods did not forecast any floods in Uttarakhand.

He shared that with appropriate motoring, risk mitigation system and forecasting preparedness a large part of the disaster could have been avoided. It is possible to forecast high intensity rainfall and cloudbursts for which technology like Doppler Radar System is available and was sanctioned for the state. This reflects how inefficient our forecasting, monitoring system and administrative preparedness is, to deal with any calamity of such magnitude.

 Further he noted that development interventions in a place like Uttarakhand which is highly prone to landslides, flashfloods, high intensity rainfall, needs to take into consideration the demographic and topographical facts of the area . Rampant mining on the riverbanks and indiscriminate construction of hydropower projects added to the disaster in making.

Dr. Gosh attributed mismanagement on the part of the Uttrakhand government and lack of co ordination among the scientific and nodal bodies as the prime reason for enormous of loss of life and property. He further stated that it is a well known fact that the Himalayas are fragile, made more so by deforestation and unorganized constructions. Experience of early /late season rainfall, monsoons, drought early furious entry of monsoon in the recent times underscores the fact, that all this requires greater policy attention.

Further there is a serious need to review our weather forecasting and forecast dissemination mechanism considering both technological and institutional options. The disaster has given us a wakeup call on what actions needs to be taken ,he noted.

Elaborating on the Orography Prof. Dubey noted that the whole of the Uttarakhand Region is prone to this kind of rainfall. He said that there is a need to identify these orographic areas where landslides are bound to happen, and start working on the areas. There is a need to have some kind of warning system and rain gauging systems, he added.