Natural disasters like the ‘cloudburst’ that took place in parts of Doon are not easy to predict or prepare for. It was good to see that first responders, right up to the Chief Minister, other ministers and local legislators, were at the spot to provide the required relief and rescue services. While the presence of such bigwigs at the site is good in that necessary decisions can be taken at the spot, such as calling in choppers for transportation of victims, etc., hopefully care is taken not to get in the way of the general administration, police and SDRF that have to do the real work. They should also not be disturbed by the need to attend to the VVIPs present.
There should also be capacity in the government to learn from every such incident to ensure policies and regulations are made for their prevention. It is a given that much of the middle Himalayas are fragile in structure and landslides are in the nature of things. While, traditionally, those living in the hills selected sites for house construction very carefully, that is not a luxury available anymore. The need to be closer to the roads and markets, and changing livelihood activities have made people settle on the most marginal of lands. One needs only to visit Kempty Falls to witness this phenomenon. Also, people do not have the money and the engineering skills available to make such dwellings more secure. It is the result of a mixture of desperation and greed.
All the same, the government has to decide on strictly enforcing at least some common sense regulations to ensure lives remain secure. A general complaint of the people is that the large scale ‘development’ projects are destabilising mountains, making otherwise safe areas prone to disasters. While it is true that many of these projects are necessary, government should ensure that the latest engineering techniques and technology are used so that there is the least harm to the environment. This approach may seem expensive, but will prove cheaper in the long run. Extreme climate events are only going to increase in frequency, as is being seen globally. Policies, therefore, should be prepared and implemented keeping this essential factor in mind. It would require sophisticated governance skills but Uttarakhand, at least, should be up to the task with its numerous technical institutions and availability of skilled human resources.