Cloudbursts caused damage to property at two places in Devprayag Tehsil and one in Narendranagar Tehsil of Tehri District on Tuesday. Fortunately, there were no casualties. The incident, however, raises the question once again about the safety of hill people in the face of natural disasters. Flash floods, cloudbursts, avalanches, landslides, etc., pose a constant danger, further impacting adversely the quality of life. This is just another factor that promotes migration from the hills.
Since it is natural forces that wreak this havoc, it is a challenge for human beings to use the same principles in building a safe environment. It has been learnt through bitter experience that the age old lifestyles and customs had their roots in an understanding of nature’s ways. Sadly, so greatly have they been eroded that it would be easier to start afresh in designing lifestyles for the future. There is need to create new templates for not just construction of individual houses but entire villages and their surroundings. This requires input from engineers, climate and environment scientists, geologists, agriculture experts, et al. Some basic principles need to be established to ensure that settlements are situated at the right place, have adequate drainage, are built of the right materials and engineered according to laid down parameters.
As of now, there has been a construction boom of sorts in much of the hills on whatever land that becomes available. There are clusters determined not on the basis of viability but economic reasons such as road heads, markets, proximity to bigger towns and cities. People simply build because others have done so before them and even a cursory glance at many of the towns and habitations in the hills reveals the many flaws. Homes literally cling onto the hillsides, there is no place for water to flow, the foundations are not firm, erosion is visible everywhere and an absence of trees. The rain needs only to strike at the right place even for a brief while to trigger large scale devastation. This calls for enforcement of strict regulations on construction at the grassroots level if tragedies are to be averted. As in everything else, the carrying capacity of the new settlements is limited and must be respected. Other alternatives need to be found to bear the brunt of population shifts from the remote villages. It will take time but is the only alternative if such events are to be prevented.