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Fast Forward to Dystopia


By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

“Dystopia” is an imaginary land where people led dehumanised and fearful lives. We thought of it when we heard of a terrible tragedy in Mumbai. A huge audience of ordinary folk sat under the blazing sun listening to assorted netas. Those pampered leaders, however, were seated in a shaded and, presumably, cooled dais. They were, possibly, so contented with their position that they did not notice that many in their audience were collapsing, and later, dying of sunstroke. That is a dictionary definition of a dystopian civilisation.

The pandemic of dystopia has spread to our little town. This is well into our Tourist

Season but even our main road, the Mall, is a dug-up mess. Trusting that all would be well, tourists are furious that it is difficult to get around.

Phones must be busy spreading the bad word. No amount of spin doctoring will cure this negative publicity. Our Tourist Season has been as regular as clockwork ever since we became a hill-station, 200 years ago. Our citizens point to the fact that we, from our small seasonal economy, contribute at least Rs 200 crore to the state.

So, why the step-motherly treatment, Mr CM?

Then we turned our attention to our friends in the trading community, like shopkeepers, many of whom have been here for generations. They had a surprising complaint: DUST! From the Mall we have seen dust clouds billowing over the plains but it has not been a problem here. A bookseller friend told us that his staffers have to spend much of their time dusting books on his shelves. His open-fronted store faces the Mall and as the road-workers shovel, dig and spread, his books would take on an unwelcome antique look if left un-dusted. Naturally, the owners of our small coffee shops and snack bars are even more worried.

Now let us come to a really major problem: WATER.

Mussoorie gets all its water from springs. These usually lie in valleys because this is where nature stores rain, hail, graupel and snow after their pure water has melted and sunk into the ground. Our limestone soil filters this percolating water and stores it in a layer of spongy rock resting on a hard layer like a plate. This water storage formation is called an aquifer. When the aquifers are full, they spout out their water in springs. The Water Department taps these springs and pumps the water into high reservoirs from where it flows into consumers taps.

But here’s the snag. The springs do not procure enough water for Mussoorie’s growing population. This is why we decided to pump water up from the River Yamuna. But that was easier said than done. Not because our government could not afford the cost but because it attracted the gaze of our crony capitalists. Or, so the whispers in the corridors said and we have no reason to disbelieve them. We are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that the filtered water will reach us before the end of April. We had been told to expect it on the First of April but who would believe that?

Now, however, we can no longer take such matters lightly: not after the Mumbai heatstroke deaths. We cannot take such acts as delayed road repairs and dust and tardy augmentation of drinking water supplies as the natural shenanigans of rent seeking netas. Coupled with these acts of political arrogance, Climate will not just harm, it will kill and then grow into a mass extinction monster. The most vulnerable will be our marginal farmers then. As the heat increases, our green cover shrinks to galloping urbanisation.

Uttarakhand will begin to shrivel as its forest fall to the timber mafia. Trees are nature’s water conservation and air purifying machine.

But here is a news report that disturbs us. “A committee of the National Green Tribunal, confirming a report prepared earlier by the Forest Survey of India that was submitted last year, has said that it wasn’t 163 trees ‘but over 6,000’ that were cut illegally for a tiger safari project at the Corbett Tiger Reserve.” Is this another example of biased priorities? Another dystopian red flag?

We have just learnt that the telecom lines on the Mall were cut at about 7 p.m. on 18 April. Jai Dystopia!

(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.)