Officially, the rescue operation of the stranded pilgrims and tourists in Uttarakhand is over. Government figures say over 1,00,000 have been evacuated. There is still no official clarity over the death toll. Initially, the government was capping the death toll at around 1000. Speaker of the Uttarakhand assembly said some 10,000 could be dead while the chief minister of the state said exact number of deaths would never be known. On July 3, the Uttarakhand chief secretary clarified that the ‘official death toll so far’ was 580. Mass cremation of bodies began more than a week ago but still, bodies can been seen all around in the affected areas. Also, digging out bodies from the mud sludge with boulders, almost three metres high, remains an uphill task.
And midst all this, the cry that was always there, desperately looking for a voice, is now finding its listeners, introducing us to yet another horror tale that we all knew, but wasn’t hearing about. Many cities of Uttarakhand stand devastated. With homes gone and connectivity snapped, most of the towns and villages in affected areas wear a deserted, ghost-town like look.
Now into the fourth week, the Uttarakhand disaster, like any other calamity of this scale, has given humanity a pain that will be felt forever.
But, at the same time, the developments in the aftermath of the man-made disaster have also reaffirmed the strengthening perception of the masses about the callousness of politicians and politicians-controlled bureaucratic apparatus in dealing with the concerns of the common men, the proclaimed basic entity of the masses in a democratic (read pseudo-democratic) set-up like India.
Three days before the disaster, to the ultimate devastation of June 16-17, to the aftermath of the cloudburst, glacier-melting and flash floods, and since then, every detail cries out loudly to implicate the political apathy and administrative delinquency.
As usual, in the aftermath of a man-made disaster, the blame game got uglier each passing day with more skeletons tumbling out. There are clear indications that the state government was alerted multiple times from June 14-16 of heavy to very heavy rainfall. The state Met department of Uttarakhand had even asked the state government to evacuate the pilgrims. In fact, a reporter told one of his relatives, who was in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand, was advised by a high-level bureaucrat of Uttarakhand to climb down two days before the catastrophe of June 16-17. Every finding into the ‘hows and whys’ of the disaster every passing day tells us the political administration did nothing but slept over the alerts.
Experts say Uttarakhand has witnessed a boom of unplanned development in recent years. Fragile ecology of the state has been manipulated beyond a point of reconciliation with the nature. Riverbeds and riverfronts are encroached heavily. Dozens of hydroelectric power projects (45 operational and over 100 under development) and hundreds of big and small dams crisscross the state. Environmentalists, activists and scientists have been regularly raising voices against sanctioning so many hydroelectric power projects and dams without the necessary scientific studies. But politicians always slept on the reports; always killed the warnings. In fact, they vehemently pleaded with the central government to denotify the preserved areas and not to notify more areas as sensitive ecological zones that prohibit any activity detrimental to the ecological balance.
In order to earn quick tourism money, the relatively inaccessible areas like Kedarnath, which are under snow for half of the year, were made accessible with poorly laid roads while the hills of Uttarakhand needed roads built with specialized technology. These bad roads aided to the calamity monumentally. A report by the Indian Institute of Technology (Roorkee) and the Bureau of the Bureau of Indian Standards blames bad roads in contributing significantly to the landslides.
These bad roads did increase the tourist influx. But, being one of the major infrastructural casualties in the aftermath of the disastrous floods, these very roads stranded thousands in various parts of the state. The resultant loss of connectivity further hampered the relief and rescue efforts.
Why didn’t the politicians and the politicians-controlled bureaucracy take into account the expert warnings and views before connecting the remote parts of the state with a fragile ecosystem of relatively younger and unstable Himalayan region?
Each of these factors is a direct outcome of the human greed of political corruption. Without politicians and the politicians-controlled bureaucracy, such unrestricted and obscene exploitation of nature damaging the ecological balance of the area wasn’t possible.
But it wasn’t enough. The obscene display of political corruption continued unabated even after it emerged how massive was the devastation in the Uttarakhand hills.
EVERY POLITICIAN LOVES A NATURAL CALAMITY
It is unfortunate and one feels sorry about it but it has been the truth and in fact we should say ‘it is the truth’ now after the sustained shameless bravado of Indian politicians that came to the surface once again, so soon after the blame-game over the Uttarakhand disaster that is still ongoing, with the ugly politics over the serial blasts in the Mahabodhi Temple of Bodh Gaya on July 7 morning.
The calamity in Uttarakhand became a sort of disaster-tourism opportunity and the devastated hill state became a tourism zone for the politicians. What else inference can be drawn after witnessing what all that happened. But whatever that happened also reaffirmed the fact strongly that politicians across the parties are similar under the skin – insensitive, inhuman and irresponsible. Who else can do politics over the dead and the dying?
Almost every party was busy taking credits and shifting blames while thousands had died, many were dying and thousands were imminent danger of losing lives.
Choppers were busy ferrying politicians while the people stranded were crying for help. Also, it remains a mystery that why very limited number of choppers were put in rescue efforts in the initial days by a country that claims to be one of the major powers in the globalized world.
After the unforgivable failure of ignoring the warnings before the disaster of June 16-17, more horror was unleashed by the politicians by denying the people precious hours of relief and rescue efforts.
Those responsible for ignoring warnings must be tried for culpable homicide, isn’t it? But that is not going to happen. And those responsible for denying the precious hours when many more lives could have been saved must be sacked from the public life by the public. Even this is not going to happen.
India and Indians need to treat the politicians this way. But when the day would come – the day that would herald the country in a direction to become a true democracy?
The Uttarakhand disaster was a calamity where the ordinary Indian became victim of the nature’s fury due to the human greed of political corruption when he faced simultaneous ferocious attacks from the parties, the nature and the politicians, at the same time.
Whatever be the inside story into the bad play by the weather, it was certainly worsened by the administrative apathy that ignored the pre-disaster warnings and by the political debauchery that aggravated the post-disaster misery.
Politicians and administration controlled by them were first in denial mode about the scale of the disaster. Politicians then crossed all the limits of decency by putting an audacious front to deny that there were preceding warnings and finally did away with whatever little inhibition that they had to put their brazen shameless votebank maneuvering in full throttle.
So we heard headlines like:
– a minister of the state got the relief material unloaded and used the rescue chopper for his own ride;
– the son of a top politician of the state with political ambitions got a chopper diverted in his personal service to draw the political mileage;
– unhappy with Vijay Bahuguna’s efforts, other Congress CMs had to come into damage control mode to contain the political crisis by coming to the aid of the state;
– the disaster hit Uttarakhand refused aid from Gujarat as the government there was of the political opposition;
– the imposed code of conduct not allowing any further VVIP visits to the state to facilitate the relief and rescue efforts was subverted for a top politician of the ruling party that caused further delays;
– the reports of corruption in distribution of the relief material;
– the claims of the state government on the progress of the relief efforts that were found to be unsatisfactory
Sadly, the list is long and is growing longer.
It is now over three weeks of the disastrous flash floods and the media cry over the issue is losing steam. So the politicians that made the nature’s fury a man-made disaster will be relatively free to manipulate the huge funds that would go into the rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts. The aftermath, like in case of any other disaster, is going to be a free run for corruption.
P Sainath writes – ‘everybody loves a good drought’. It can rightly be rephrased as ‘every politician loves a natural calamity’.
©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/