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Don’t Develop – Conserve!

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We, the Citizens

By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer

On the night of the 4th-5th August we heard a thud. We thought a Flying Squirrel had landed awkwardly on the corrugated iron roof of our cottage. The next morning we learnt that part of the National Highway that runs above our house, had caved in and saw a report and photograph in the Garhwal Post under the headline Rain Causes Road to Collapse. The reporter probably got his information about the causes from the NH officials.

In fact it did not rain that night in our area!

We’ve known that NH for many years. It was first the Mackinnon Cart Road, laid down by the brewer for bullock carts carrying beer barrels. It was taken over by the Mussoorie City Board when, presumably, the brewery found a shorter cut, now called “The Cart Mackenzie Road”. If there ever was a Mackenzie, who was famous enough to have a road named after him, the Brits would have called it the “The Mackenzie Cart Road”: they would not have put the Cart before the Mackenzie!

But that is just a philological aside, of interest to wordsmiths like us.

The point is that we, personally, know that for at least 68 years this section of the road has stood rock-firm and unshaken. The hillside supporting this section of the NH has not be excavated, encroached upon or eroded by a stream. The fact is that the mountains of Uttarakhand have been heartlessly over-exploited and mercilessly flogged. They are collapsing under a weight far in excess of their Carrying Capacity. They can’t take any more. To put it in terms that have become dangerously familiar, our mountains are suffering from co-morbidities: the presence of many survival-threatening diseases at the same time.

These life-endangering infirmities were diagnosed, many years ago, by an expert research organisation based in the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration. They did extensive field research and analysis of their data, and presented their findings before their peers, the LBSNAA, and the organisation which had commissioned their research, the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee. The approved conclusions were published as a book, Carrying Capacity of Mussoorie, in 2001. Most copies of this authoritative book have, mysteriously (or, perhaps, not so mysteriously), vanished! One of us, as a prime mover of this study, has a copy. Here, according to that study, are some of the life-threatening co-morbidities of Mussoorie:

1. “The projections show that by the year 2016 current water supply will be inadequate”

2. “The analysis has shown that practically no land that is barren and located on gentle slopes is available for future development…. That the construction cannot expand is clear”

Twenty years have passed since that report was released. During all those two decades, the Mussoorie Dehradun Development Authority (MDDA) has been in operation.

• How many buildings has it sanctioned since the Carrying Capacity study was released?
• In spite of the projection about the inadequacy of water by 2016 what effective steps has the Jal Sansthan taken to refuse to give new connections to expanded or new constructions sanctioned by the MDDA?
• On what specific criteria does the MDDA approve the construction of new buildings in Mussoorie, or the expansion of existing buildings, in spite of the reservations expressed by the Carrying Capacity study?
• Since the development of any urban area, as the Mussoorie-Dehradun area is, requires the provision of a 24×7 supply of drinking water to its residents, what has the MDDA done to ensure this?

Happily, our young CM has shown a dynamism which has been lacking in many of his predecessors. He should turn his attention to the apparent dilemma of the MDDA. Since the Study has found that no land that is barren and located on gentle slopes is available for future development…. That the construction cannot expand is clear the MDDA should turn its attention to other matters of creative development.

A start could be made by trying to restore much that is on the verge of being lost and forgotten. Begin with the Canals of Dehradun and the Ice Pits of Mussoorie. The MDDA should stop thinking of Compounding Fees and start thinking of Conservation Needs!

(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.)