Thousands of people stranded in Uttarakhand being guided to safety
When I was in the college I remember watching a film about angry birds and animals. It was not a suspense/horror film nor an animation but depicted what can happen some day when angry birds hit back. After all, how long can the birds (and animals) take it lying down? How long will they continue to suffer and tolerate all the torture that mankind has been inflicting upon them with utmost ease?
I don't think we took it seriously.
Last week's disaster that struck the Himalayan region of Uttarakhand in India -- some call it the Himalayan 'tsunami' -- left thousands missing and several times over stranded when nature hit back in all its fury. Within minutes, several parts of Uttarakhand were left devastated. Till the time of writing this, the rescue operations were on, and reports said the death toll may be in multiple of thousands. Swathes of metalled roads had been washed away, massive landslides taking place all along, a large number of villages swept away from the face of the earth leaving behind almost 10-12 ft of accumulated silt. Reports talked of dogs and vultures feeding on the dead bodies. You have all read it. I don't want to re-write those horrific stories of what appears to be clearly a man-made disaster.
It is not that warnings had not been sounded earlier. But a political class -- along with a dominant section of Indian media -- were so swayed by the magic of economic growth that they went on hammering on the need to bring in more investments into the Himalayan region. Any move by saner voices to raise the issue of environmental consequences of lop-sided development were run down as obstacles to growth. Not only for Uttarakhand, they also heckled down a miniscule of TV panelists who would talk of balancing growth with environment. So when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decided to override Ministry of Environment & Forests right to view environmental cost of financial investments being made in the country, he set up the National Investment Board. The TV channels had backed the wrong move saying that it was required for country's development. I am sure when a disaster strikes these projects, for which fast-track investment clearances are now being made, the same media will never question its own nefarious role.
Policy paralysis is another term that has been coined to explain the obstacles been thrown at industrial growth in the name of environment protection. Investment worth thousands of crores was struck because environmental clearance was not coming. In fact, many a time idiotic questions like why do we need environmental clearance were being also asked. The same media -- perhaps to overcome its own guilt -- is now shrieking and shouting asking why the politicians ignored the warnings on the environment front. The same experts, who kept quiet all these years, are being invited to explain how and why environment protection was ignored. But the bigger question is -- what were they doing when the Himalayas were being ruthlessly raped by the mining, timber and construction mafia?
It is all because not only the political leaders and the mafias, we, the people, too are at fault. We have always preferred to remain a mute spectator when ecological devastation is underway. Not many of us dare to step out, and do whatever he/she can do. While the local communities have been on the forefront of raising their voice, its the educated and the elite who try to run down the ecocide saying its a collateral damage and is inevitable. Even those in public limelight, more often than not, remain quiet hoping that their opposition would block their own chances of being on a State or Central committee. Sad but true of the ways the educated are part of the compromise. By keeping quiet, we only lend support to the mafias.
So when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approved the Amritsar-Kolkata industrial corridor along the Grand Trunk Road, no questions were asked. earlier, all opposition to the New Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor had been brushed aside. All environmental norms and the resulting socio-economic cost of a faulty development model were simply ignored. I am illustrating with these two examples to show that the probable damage that can happen is not confined to the Himalayas. It can also happen in these very industrial corridors. Does anyone care? When was the last time you saw Indian TV channels asking the right questions about the completely flawed and environmentally catastrophic industrial growth model that is being aggressively pushed?
Nature has its own ways. It can tolerate to an extent the havoc that is being played around. But when you stretch the extremes, it has its ways of striking back. Uttarakhand just witnessed the nature's backlash. But will we draw any lessons? I seriously doubt. After the relief is operations are over, the weather returning back to normal, and when another match fixing scandal breaks out, the great Himalayan tragedy will be all but forgotten. We will once again return back to our wayward ways of exploiting the hills, make our money and leave the poor hapless millions to face the fury of nature whenever it decides to strike back. Till then we can continue to bask and soak in the glory of rising GDP numbers.
For those who have forgotten the massive destruction Tsunami caused along the coast of South India, here is what I wrote at that time: Tsunami, mangroves and Market Economy (http://www.inmotionmagazine.