There are hundreds of families that have yet not recovered from what happened in Uttarakhand one year ago. These are not only the families of the visitors who died in the cloudburst and flash floods of June 2013, but also those of the local people displaced, evacuated, rendered homeless and jobless by the disaster. The human cost is always the most tragic, but it is also one of a series of damages that disaster leaves in its wake. Roads, buildings, bridges, temples, hotels, shops, businesses — everything has to be rebuilt. Political tussles in Uttarakhand meant that focused work on rebuilding could not begin in earnest till February this year, and then the elections took over soon after. Although far from enough, some work has been done. What does it portend?
The beautiful mountain ways of Uttarakhand represent a highly eco-sensitive zone that is also steeped in religious sentiment. Just protecting the area ecologically while affording pilgrims the satisfaction of their religious yearning would require wise and patient planning with the coordination of expert knowledge. That is rare in India. Uttarakhand thrives on its tourists, religious or otherwise, and hotels and guest houses on flood plains of the many rivers or on slopes already fragile with deforestation and tunnelling are only one feature of the uncontrolled burgeoning of industry. Besides, the eagerness for development that begins to look like rapaciousness — the series of hydro-electric projects, for example — needs to be scrutinized carefully, as was recommended by the Chopra committee report on the possible causes of the June disaster. Building, whether dams, tunnels or hotels, in an eco-sensitive zone must be subjected to the most rigorous of checks, especially since the area is also vulnerable to earthquakes. It is thus disheartening to find that, reportedly, the new government has been rather dismissive of the Chopra committee report. Environmental alertness should be a buzzword in any forward-looking government. Neither tourism nor power projects need disappear. All forms of development and industry must be conducted wisely, with restraint, so that Atlas does not need to twitch his shoulder again. Apart from settling the displaced local people, this is the least a responsible government can do.