Pahari voice of Uttarakhand disaster
There is another side of the Uttarakhand disaster which got buried under trauma of pilgrims and media glare over unplanned growth in the state. That is the voice of local Paharis who have to live with the devastation caused.
It is sad that the national policy-makers have failed to understand the plight and difficulties of people living in the Himalayan region — from Kashmir to Arunachal. Life up there in the hills is not easy and they are under constant threat of nature’s fury.
Those living in plains of India may not realise that even in one of the fastest growing economies in the world Paharis still have to walk for kilometers in the rough terrain to reach their homes.
They don’t have access to regular power supply leave alone around the clock electricity. For almost six months in a year, the living conditions are harsh — with severe winters and hefty rainy season.
I being from hills of Himachal have witnessed many deaths because of inability of their families to ferry the ill to local health centers several kilometers away. Even if people are arranged to ferry the ill, by the time they reach a health center it is normally too late.
I have to recall a start reality of living in hills. Last winter many rich apple growing areas in Shimla district of so-called power surplus state Himachal was without a power supply for almost a month.
And this was at a time when people living in Delhi or Mumbai were crying hoarse for a power cut of a few hours. Mobility of Paharis was restricted due to heavy snowfall and there was no relief in close sight.
These issues I have raked because a large number of so-called experts have called for almost total ban on development in upper reaches of flash flood hit Uttarakhand evoking an instant protest by the locals in Uttarakhand.
I agree with their protest. They also have right to development, which has been denied to them since Independence because they don’t have the political clout like the vast population in plains of India.
One example of this is less than one percent of total rail network added in India has been in the strategically important Himalayan region.
If Uttarakhand had good quality water resistant roads, the relief and rescue could have been matter. That did not happen because the government — at Centre and the State — does not want to spend more for building these high quality roads.
The state government of course cannot build high quality roads on their own as they don’t have finances. In such a scenario, it should be responsibility of the cash rich Central government to provide additional funds to Himalayan states to build good quality roads. Not just state highways but even the link roads, key to socio-economic development of hill people.
Second is the issue of hydel projects. Many experts say that blasting for constructing tunnels below mountains weaken them and is a cause for huge human and ecological loss during flash floods. I agree. But, then there are technological solutions available to build tunnels without blasting.
One option is of the tunnel boring machines used by Delhi metro. Other technologies are also available but they would increase the cost of hydel projects, which the project proponents should be forced to pay.
You cannot prevent calamities like the one in Uttarakhand with help and cooperation of locals. It will only happen if the government assures locals that their voice in conservation of nature will be heard and their development will not be hampered.