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Double Tragedy

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The damage caused to the two hydel projects by the Chamoli flash flood is being estimated at Rs 1500 crores. Although NTPC will be able to absorb the loss, the impact on the other, privately owned project could prove fatal to the company. This is apart from the loss in terms of expected power production and the delays if the projects are revived. It is a setback not just to the state’s economy but also the nation’s.

However, an even deeper wound is that in human lives lost, which could go up to more than two hundred. A large proportion of these would be workers from other states, far from their homes, separated from their families without goodbyes. Many of these are those who seek work here because it is not available in their home states. They have land holdings but have the means and skills only to undertake traditional farming. They migrate to increase their families’ earnings, even if they have to live in difficult and dangerous conditions. How much better it would be if they could at least find gainful employment near their homes, so that – even in times of trouble – they could have the support of their near and dear ones?

This is why it is important to introduce economic reforms on a continual basis to ensure modern technologies and systems reach the grassroots. Just as there are calls made for proportionate size of power projects to match the local conditions in the Himalayas, similarly the market has to expand horizontally just as much as vertically. This would provide a wide base to hold up what may be described as a ‘top-heavy’ market. India and China have been wooed by the world’s manufacturers because of the potential size of their consumer base. China has been more successful in providing purchasing power in the hands of its people. This needs to be replicated in India so that entrepreneurs and workers can find the market for their goods and services as locally as possible. It would not just cut down on overheads, need for transportation, taxes, etc., but also provide much needed opportunity for smaller players.

That people have died is tragic, but the cruelty of the uncertainty faced by their families in distant places is equally great. Just as there has been no closure for some families after their loved ones disappeared in the Uttarkashi flood, there will be endless pain and desperate hope for many in the present crisis. It is a price even higher than any in economic terms.