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Development, Yes; Disaster, No

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By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

The 41 labourers have been rescued. The whole world knows what happened and how India spared no effort to save them, including swallowing its pride when it called upon the so-called rat miners to do what all the hi-tech machines could not achieve. Now, it is time for us to launch a reality check on what went wrong, why it went wrong and who was responsible for this great blow to our carefully constructed image of a World Power. We, who could send a 6-wheel rover to trundle on the surface of the Moon, made a mess of digging a tunnel through our Himalayan Mountains.

This column presumes that we adhere to two principles of democratic governance. One, that all decisions which might endanger the lives of a number of Indian citizens must be taken by the Cabinet. They should not depend on the whims of individual ministers. Two, that all decisions taken by the Cabinet are the collective responsibility of the entire Cabinet.  Our Cabinet cannot evade the responsibility of its actions by clinging to the allegory of the Double Engine Sarkar.

We also don’t know why young Ankita Bhandari died. Or, why a room in the Resort where she worked was so hurriedly demolished. Or, why the name of the person to whom she declined to give “special services” has not been discovered. And, if the “special services” were to be applied to all guests, then does that not make that Resort “Special Services” establishment, normally identified by a Red Light?

Attempts to ignore the Ankita Bhandari case will not succeed. Similarly, attempts to ignore the following questions about the collapse of the tunnel and the trapped workers should not be brushed under the all-concealing carpet.

  1. Was an assessment of the geology of the area done before the alignment of the proposed tunnel was agreed to?
  2. If the assessing authority said that the alignment of this tunnel was safe, who was this authority?
  3. Did the company which was awarded the tunnelling contract have the experience and the track record to undertake such hazardous work?
  4. Alternative escape tunnels are a normal part of such projects? Why was no escape tunnel made in this project?
  5. How many other contracts endangering the lives of the citizens of Uttarakhand and others are being awarded to this company?
  6. A large amount of time, money and resources has been spent to undo the mistakes made by the contractor. Should this burden be borne by the tax payer?
  7. Should not the contractor shoulder the liability for all these expenses occurred under rescue and relief operations for the 4l workers trapped because of the contractor’s negligence? That should include the cost of the transportation, food, accommodation and all other expenses incurred by every official and expert involved in the rescue of the 41 trapped and trusting Indian citizens.

There are many of us fellow citizens who have a deep admiration for the time and interest devoted by senior politicians to this rescue while in the midst of a hectic election schedule. There is a fair amount of appreciation for the repeated presence of our Chief Minister. All these facts will come to the fore when the electorate ponders over the performance of their elected representatives during this disaster.

In the final analysis, we elect our netas to look after our interests and so we ask what did the elected representatives of our beautiful little state do to prevent 41 of our fellow citizens from being trapped in a collapsed tunnel? If indeed both engines of our greatly publicised Double Engine Sarkar pulled their weight would this disaster have happened?  We do know that the bigger engine threw all its weight behind the rescue of the 41 workers. But what was the role of our Uttarakhand Cabinet in this successful rescue? We must presume, until informed otherwise, that the Smaller Engine, our Uttarakhand Sarkar, has to assume all responsibility for awarding the contract to a particular contractor.

That, both, in the case of the trapped workers and in the case of Ankita Bhandari is where the buck stops.

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.) (The opinions and thoughts expressed here reflect only the authors’ views!).