The Silkyara tunnel collapse will serve as a setback to the infrastructure development effort in the hills. Already, organisations that have opposed such projects tooth and nail over the years are presenting this incident as an example of the unviability of such ‘development’. They have an alternative model that would have people live mostly in a Utopian world that keeps out the ‘encumbrances’ of modernity. It may be noted that very few of such advocates of ‘sustainable existence’ themselves live and work in the hills. They would have the necessary amenities delivered to the people without the delivery system.
It is another matter that the people who do live in the hills hold a very different opinion. They want all the connectivity that the government is trying to provide them, for it is they who have to struggle when a patient or pregnant woman has to be taken to hospital. What they do want is that they be compensated more than adequately when their land is acquired for some project, or their livelihood taken away. There is also little distinction being made between the haphazard growth resulting from individuals’ investment in construction of houses, hotels, etc., and the government’s infrastructure development. In the Joshimath subsidence case, for instance, there has been unregulated expansion of homes and hotels, overburdening the slopes, but the blame is being placed on a nearby project.
It is important, therefore, for the government to set up a regulatory system based on advice from multiple experts and then enforce it strictly. The naysayers should also realise that, if the necessary science and technology is applied to planning and implementing projects, while keeping in mind environmental concerns, almost all such projects can be viable. Mishaps do happen at construction sites but that applies also to those in the plains. It is lack of adherence to the regulations, disregard for workers’ safety, etc., that is more responsible for the disasters. Also, do not natural disasters happen at places where there are no such projects underway?
The governments also should not be stingy while providing compensation, or while planning projects. The best companies should be involved even if they cost more. After all, tens of crores of rupees must have gone into the ongoing rescue operation in Silkyara – why not spend that money before in ensuring quality of engineering?
In a day and age when plans are being made to settle on the moon and Mars, how can the Himalayas be out of bounds?