By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
The Garhwal Post of 15 January said, “Taking lessons from Joshimath, the state cabinet has decided to conduct a carrying capacity survey of all hill towns. Surveys will be conducted in the municipal corporations, municipalities and nagar panchayat areas in the first phase.” Since there are an estimated 46 hill stations and 116 towns, the first phase of these surveys should cover a number of places between these two estimates. Clearly this is a formidable task if detailed carrying capacity studies are to be undertaken. If, however, meticulous surveys are not intended, then the whole exercise becomes a hollow, publicity-seeking stunt not worth the money spent on it. So, we shall give the benefit of doubt to our state government and presume that they are sincere in their quest for the truth.
So, to start with, everyone must realise that the need for such surveys should have been felt when the first government took over our state on 9th November, 2000. Every political party which has governed Uttarakhand must share the blame; the present dispensation can glow in the realisation that it is the only one that is doing something about ascertaining the true cause of the tragedy of Joshimath.
Now for the bitter truth: with the best will in the world, such surveys cannot be completed, within our limited resources, in the time available. Our state will have to seek the Central Government’s help calling on the “double engine” metaphor.
We make this assertion based on the experience of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee and the results of the study on Mussoorie published in a hard cover book, titled ‘Carrying Capacity of Mussoorie’, published for The Supreme Court Monitoring Committee 2001 by Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi. If our state government does not intend to publish such a book when its surveys have been completed, it will be a clear indication that it does not plan to takes its citizens into confidence. If that is so, then it could lead to the presumption that the findings of the survey have embarrassed the government. If, however, the findings of the surveys are put in the public domain then the citizens will be reassured that our elected representatives still adhere to the principles of Accountability and Transparency.
If the government is sincere in ascertaining the Carrying Capacity of its selected areas, it needs EXPERTISE. The Mussoorie study was carried out by a team of professionals from the LBSNAA under the guidance of Dr H Ramachandran and Dr Nira Ramachandran. The study was sponsored in April 1997 and the draft report was circulated in April 1998. This draft report was discussed in an open session in May 1998. Over 40 persons attended the open session. The revised version of the report incorporates the suggestions and modifications proposed in the meeting. There was openness at all times.
There was a great amount of hard leg-work involved in this research. The team could easily have gone to the Municipal Council, asked a few questions of their members, and then pretended that it had, virtually, ascertained the collective opinion of the citizens. It did not do that. It met a number of interested groups of Mussoorie’s citizens, hoteliers, bureaucrats and politicians and interacted with them. Such conversations reveal much more than formal meetings would, but it increases the work of the researchers
It is clear that such a study cannot be given as a part-time activity to DMs and SDMs. Nor can it be handed down as a fiat from The High Command. This must be a participatory joint endeavour in an open and democratic manner. The researchers will encounter many difficulties which they cannot brush under the carpet. Moreover “the study has shown poor and grossly inadequate database on which development activities are planned”.
These are the sort of assessments that justify a Carrying Capacity Study. Platitudes which fall short of such findings are flimsy paste-and-scissors jobs and have to be exposed and ridiculed. Any government that attempts to put such problems on the backburner in our environmentally stressed days is inviting another heart-wrenching tragedy. But it is also a tocsin, a warning bell which we must not ignore.
(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 firstperson 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.)