The calamitous weather in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh poses not just immediate challenges for the two states, but is going to have a negative social and economic impact in the long term. In Uttarakhand, for instance, it will seriously affect efforts to stop migration from the hills. The challenge perceived to be primary in the state was the pattern of urban development, for which initiatives were being taken not only to upgrade infrastructure in ‘smart’ ways, but also provide facilities to the mountain folk. It was working to some extent, but now the pressure on the plains will increase even more. The youth are going to prefer jobs in elsewhere as their future will seem bleak in the hills.
While Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has the immediate task of ensuring rehabilitation of people displaced by land subsidence, landslides, collapsing slopes, he will have to begin planning ahead to meet the long-term challenge. The later steps are taken to address this issue, the more difficult the job will become. How will he persuade industrialists and businessmen to invest big in the state at the proposed Investors’ Summit in the present scenario? Where is he going to rehabilitate victims of natural disasters and what assurance will there be that those places would be safe? In the plains, he is faced by large scale encroachments on municipal, government, forest, railway land, etc., which the courts have been repeatedly directing should be removed. The slums of Dehradun were given a reprieve through an ordinance, but what will happen to people in Haldwani and other places facing a similar eviction axe?
Theoretically, this challenge can be used as an opportunity to reshape the pattern of habitation in Uttarakhand. It is possible if there is the required vision, as also input of scientists, engineers and technology. At the same time, however, the funds required will be enormous, while the time is short. It can be done if India’s wealthy, particularly the Uttarakhandi Diaspora, can be persuaded to not just invest in business opportunities here, but also establish modern day vacation homes in the hills. Entire valleys can be developed, complete with facilities, helipads and such like for the ultra-rich. There are numerous activities for them to indulge in, such as skiing, mountaineering, trekking, river rafting, et al. This will generate employment, even as weather proof infrastructure is intelligently developed. Can it be done?