Uttarakhand Tragedy: Lessons Galore

The state of Uttarakhand faced one of the worst tragedies in recent memory. Several hundreds were killed and property worth thousands of crores was damaged by the floods. Man made problems turned a natural calamity into a national disaster. If the armed forces once again won the hearts of millions of countrymen, by displaying immense courage in the face of adversity, the political class and the bureaucracy let the people down.

Yatras and pilgrimages take place across India. What is required is to put in place logistics and infrastructure to cope with the rush and regulation of traffic wherever necessary. It is beyond comprehension as to why preventive and remedial steps were not taken once the Met office had made predictions of heavy rains. If pilgrim traffic to Vaishno Devi and Amarnath can be regulated, why was an unmanageable number allowed to proceed to Kedarnath? A routine registration process would have helped in gathering accurate data of casualties and missing persons.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was set up in the wake of the Tsunami to macro guide and holistically manage such situations rather than being response centric. They were mandated to fill up the gaps of other civilian agencies and coordinate efforts including rendering timely advice to the state Governments concerned. It is apparent that it did not live up to the desired level. It also needs to be analysed whether this 1000 troop strong agency was not allowed to function due to the turf battles within the system.

The need for pre-locationing of troops in the areas of possible impending disasters has been emphasised time and again. Such a step would not only allow agencies such as the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to familiarize themselves with the area but also enable them to know the civilian Government personnel for better coordination during an emergency. Similarly, ever since the Kosi floods in Bihar, there has been a demand for setting up a national reserve of stores including hygiene and sanitary material, medicine, tentage etc so that they can be readily available in times of crisis.

Continuing deforestation, rampant construction activity in blatant violation of land use and environmental laws and regulations, reckless building of dams and reservoirs in eco sensitive zones are matters of serious concern, which need to be factored in while preparing a roadmap for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the affected areas.

While a political blame game does not help, fixing of responsibility is important to ensure that such criminal negligence does not recur. The people of Uttarakhand are resilient by nature. It is for the Governments at the Centre and the state to heal their wounds and make Uttarakhand a role model for sustainable development and recovery.

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