In 1906 an earthquake stuck San Francisco and it bears a striking similarity to what happened in Uttarakhand 107 years later. 80% of the city was destroyed in the earthquake and subsequent fires due to unplanned development, shoddy and poor quality of constructions; the politicians tried their best to downplay the destruction blaming it on earthquake and fires, rather than administrative reasons. They even tried to hide the number of fatalities, saying it is impossible to count the dead. The official death toll of the disaster was 375, while unofficial figures were over 3000. Details of damage to property were under-reported so that investors were not scared away. It is sad that 107 years later we are today following the same mind set.
It is true that you are merely carrying forward the “nothing will happen” attitude of your predecessors and it is also true that all the river bed encroachments have not come up in your time nor is the “free for all” seen during Yatra season, your creation, so it is not fair to blame you for everything. That there were no disaster response plans, that there were no meetings of Uttarakhand Disaster Management Committee, that no one took any cognizance of weather warnings, that all the roads were shoddily constructed and got washed away in a flash, that it took the government full 6 days to realize the gravity of the situation, cannot be attributed to you alone; the entire system was like that for decades, so to blame you alone will not be fair.
After the earthquake of 1906 which we were talking about, San Francisco was rebuilt within a few years but with much stricter controls and in a scientific manner. Not just San Francisco, but numerous cities across the world have been rebuilt from ashes and debris, into new well planned and safer cities. The onus of reconstructing Uttarakhand is now on you. While we could not blame only you for the pathetic state of our system, the blame or praise of reconstruction will entirely be yours. It’s time to prove that you can lead the people, instead of being led by vested interests. It’s time to prove that you can mold public opinion, instead of being molded by opinion of mafias and it’s time to prove that you care for long term interests of the state rather than cheap, quick publicity.
Uttarakhand has to be rebuilt from scratch. It was a pleasure hearing to say that you will not allow constructions to come up on river beds. How about starting by removing the encroachments in Rispana and Binadal, right here under your nose? How about removing the ashrams and residential buildings in Rishikesh and Haridwar? Is the Uttarakhand Vidhan Sabha building not on river bed? Why do we presume that disasters will not strike here or are you content by hoping that disasters will not strike during your tenure?
Please do not build roads which have been washed away once again. They have been rebuilt and washed away a number of times before and they will again get washed away in the next heavy rainfall. Please build world class elevated all weather roads, in PPP mode, right upto Badrinath, which will save thousands of lives in a future natural disaster. Please do not take the easy way out in building roads, as they are the life line of our State. So many lives would not have been lost if the roads withstood flooding and people could drive away immediately, which they would have if we had modern roads.
Why we do not have disaster plans, is something beyond comprehension. Please ensure all towns have a implementable disaster preparedness plan. Are you sure Dehra Dun has one? Can the capital of Uttarakhand respond to a situation when thousands are critically injured at once? Does Tehri Dam have a Dam Break Analysis, which has been tested?
Let us also not make the issue of Eco Sensitive Zone a matter of prestige. Had the recommendations of this been in place, so many lives would have been saved. Please try and get the Forest Department to prepare proposals for other similar areas which are really sensitive, so that we do not see similar disasters there too. Please take care of nature, if you expect nature to take care of all of us.
And finally please do not think that the next disaster will strike only during next CM’s tenure. We need to be prepared for another similar disaster tomorrow.
Dr Nitin Pandey,
A concerned Uttarakhandi
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