We, the Government
By Hugh and Colleen Gantzer
Our mountains were laid down deep under water.
Where we stand today was once the bed of the great, warm, Tethys Sea. Then, inside the young earth, the molten coils of magma, in their slow, serpentine movements, shifted the interlocking continental plates resting on them. Standing on these plates are the elephantine continents. The plate on which the Eurasian continent stands was leveraged, raising the landmasses it supported higher and still higher into the sky until they became the Abodes of Snow: the Himalayas. The Tethys Sea drained, leaving behind the Mediterranean, and a few lakes in Tibet to which the wild geese fly in their annual migration from India.
The towering wall of the Himalayas also pushes back the moisture-laden winds, sucked up by the Sun from the oceans, creates the drenching and life-giving Monsoons to its south and the high-altitude desert of Tibet to its north.
Our Himalayas are still rising. The plate on which our sub-continent rests, is nudging under the Eurasian plate like the blade of a giant bulldozer. From the Thiksey Monastery in Ladakh we saw the suture, the dark line, where the Indian plate collides with the Eurasian one. Significantly, the Third Eye in the forehead of the giant golden Buddha in this monastery is a replicated ammonite: these fossil molluscs, found in Himalayan strata, are sold to pilgrims as Sudarshan Chakras: emblems of Lord Vishnu’s powerful disc. Ammonites lived in the Tethys Sea. In fact, the pure white limestone which drew rapacious quarriers to Mussoorie, was also laid down as deposits by that ancient ocean.
If the MDDA is not aware of these facts they should consult the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology and the other specialist organisations in Dehra. They will learn that the Himalayas are still growing and that we are in what is known as a seismically active zone. In other words, earthquakes are not only possible, they are inevitable. Which begs these seven questions:
1. Buildings erected in earthquake-prone areas require the installation of certain additional safeguards. Is the MDDA aware of these?
2. If they are, do they enforce these precautions?
3. If they do, can they certify that every high-rise building erected on their watch has been protected against earthquake shocks?
4. If they can, then against what magnitude of shock have they been protected?
5. Human nature being what it is, have any builders been found guilty of violating these conditions?
6. If they have been found guilty of such violations what penalties have been imposed on them?
7. If such penalties have been enforced, then has the MDDA considered naming and shaming such violators who, by their misdeeds, have endangered countless innocent human lives?
The Captain of the Titanic, who allowed his owner’s representative to persuade him to speed the Titanic recklessly across an iceberg haunted Atlantic, had the blood of 1,503 humans on his hands. We don’t recall seeing any local buildings housing humans rising above a first floor before 29th October, 1984, when the MDDA was born. We cannot allow a Meghalaya rat-hole type of tragedy to occur in our area now that we know how dangerous it is to build high-rises, without due safeguards, in our earthquake prone region. We, the Government, must demand accountability from our netas and babus.
People can live safely in earthquake-prone areas. The crowded city of the US’s San Francisco straddles the dangerous San Andreas Fault. Sensitive electronic sensors have been installed to give adequate earthquake warnings in advance. But even more important than that is for citizens to be made aware of the likelihood of such a calamity. We, in Mussoorie, are aware of the possibility of heavy snowfalls in winter cutting off supplies for a few days. We don’t get into a panic when we see snow clouds building up. Similarly, we check out our monsoon gear before July or when ferns first start appearing on the bark of our oak trees.
How many of us are aware that an earthquake is imminent? How many of us have taken precautions to stave off its dangerous consequences?
Or are our netas and babus prepared to look the other way, as the Captain of the Titanic did?