I’m just back from Khumera Village where iVolunteer( www.iVolunteer.in) the organisation that I work with is helping build livelihoods for the people who have lost their shops and businesses and almost all means of earning in the recent floods.
As you drive up from Rudraprayag you see the scale of destruction with your own eyes. Houses have mud and sand in them, houses hanging dangerously on the cliff, JCBs lying in the river, roads completely washed away and many such images. Any thing that came in the way of water was immediately swept away. People tell accounts how they say people being washed away in rivers. A lady police officer told us how one of her colleagues posted in Kedarnath told on the wireless set which was heard on every police wireless that his colleagues have drowned and he is going to be overwhelmed with water and possibly die very soon. A great loss of life was witnessed everywhere. There are many families that have lost all the male members.
Another tragedy that is waiting to happen in the hills is that the economic activity is coming to a stand still because there are no tourists coming to the state. Imagine the scale of this. Uttarakhand has a total population of 10 million people and the state gets around 30-40 million tourists every year. They are not going to return in a jiffy.
But a even bigger tragedy that is staring the mountains is that tomorrow there will be no mountains at all. All big dams are the culprit here and the state has turned a blind eye to it. Ask a local and he will tell you that the mountains in Uttarakhand are soft mountains. Constant drilling, blasting and making of tunnels into the heart of mountains for Hydel Power is making mountains very weak and with the slightest rain they give way and that leads to land slides. While I was there a whole village caved in near Phata because there was a tunnel being built underneath the village. Your Lanco Infratech, GVK, and L&T are the usual suspects but the bigger culprits is the state that has fascination with Big dams with no consideration to environment or people whose lives are dependent on the mountains. According to the local the construction of Tehri Dam has already changed the weather pattern in the Uttarakhand State. This means more rains, changing weather pattern, more cold all of which has direct impact on the lives of the people. All so that Delhi can get more electricity for its A.Cs and what not where else Guptkashi still continues to reel under power cuts.
The only way out seems Public Interest litigation in the courts to stop such big dams in environmentally sensitive and seismic zones such as Uttarakhand. People’s movement on the lines of Narmada Bachao Andolan is also needed in the state.
While work of NGOs like us might be able to build livelihoods for a few 100 families the danger is that there will be no mountains left for Uttarakhand in the years to come. That is the real tragedy of the mountains- the recent floods where just a glimpse of things to come.