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Dysfunctional System

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It would seem that the system in Uttarakhand has not learned the difficult lessons of the 2013 disaster. This fact comes to the fore every time there are heavy rains in Uttarakhand and the rate climbs up of mostly preventable deaths. The principle of ‘na taalenge, na paleinge’ is quite obviously not operational here. There have been hard decisions to be taken but the political will has been entirely lacking despite an overwhelming mandate from the people. People continue to build houses right next to rivers or even on the riverbeds. Even a normal monsoon rise in the water level becomes catastrophic. Every government department seems to be functioning in a cocoon and, even in the cities where governance should be easier and more available, the conditions are becoming worse. Anti-encroachment drives are left incomplete, damaged roads and drains are not repaired or improved, and there are no disincentives to prevent public behaviour that creates problems for the community. One reason for the failure, of course, is corruption, with engineering solutions being overpriced and corroded by use of poor material and bad workmanship. Those tasked with ensuring standards are maintained have only the marbled quality of their personal properties to show for their efforts. At the planning level, the ability to anticipate and think ahead is almost non-existent. All that the people are handed out are platitudes. These are all signs of poor leadership and a lack of commitment to the general good. Perhaps it is time to set aside the ‘grand’ projects, such as metros and ropeways, for some time and look to solutions at the local level. Development and environment experts should interact with local communities to determine what the dangers are and evolve innovative solutions. High technology works best when it is used at the grassroots. Every village and settlement should be asked to undertake a SWOT analysis on environmental, economic and social issues so that difficulties can be addressed. People need not only to be made aware of the consequences of short-term greed, but also provided the expertise and wherewithal to improve their living conditions. One result of this would be improved protection against natural disasters. Hill slope stabilisation efforts ought to be undertaken through involvement of locals and not be dependent always on large budget allocations. People must be made to understand that unless they realise the dangers, nobody else will come and do the work for them. The government is a stakeholder, but even more so are the people. Everybody needs to realise that things cannot continue, year after year, as they are now.