Date: 01/07/2013

20 questions about Uttarakhand
Neeraj Saxena, TNN | Jun 27, 2013,

Monsoon fury: Toll rises to 131, Kedarnath temple in mud

The magnitude of the Uttarakhand catastropheis still unfolding before us, notwithstanding the colossal loss of lives that will perhaps never be measured accurately. Such has been the damage that it will take years for the Himalayan state to come back to normalcy.

Natural disasters occur worldwide andUttarakhand was no exception, but the loss to human life and the quantum of misery could have been reduced had the government and shown alacrity in mounting rescue operations on a war-footing right from Day One.

That is what is expected of governments the world over, and wherever civilian/bureaucratic machinery is unable to do so, the operations' command is handed over to armed/specialised forces, or global help sought without losing any time.

What made matters worse in Uttarakhand is that even as both the central and state governments continued with their criminally tardy response, they were busy politicising the issue and this made their conduct murkier.

This, however, is not the only question. There are a number of issues that need to be raised. Here are 20 important questions that we, the people, ought to ask about Uttarakhand:

1) What caused such massive devastation? There are many factors being blamed by people: deforestation; flash flood due to cloud burst; excessive water released suddenly by huge dams made over the years on the Ganga and its tributaries; HAARP; Operation Popeye; cloud seeding by China? Will we ever get to know the truth?

2) What did UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and prime minister Manmohan Singh achieve by an aerial survey? Despite knowing that this would shut off the flight routes over Uttarakhand for rescue choppers on a crucial day, the two went ahead with the visit. As a result, the entire air force machinery had to wait for virtually the entire day to begin rescue operations.

3) Why was there a delay in accessing Kedarnath and Gaurikund to start operations on a war footing straightaway? Why ridiculously low number of helicopters were pressed into duty in the initial days when it had become clear that thousands were stranded and battling for life against rain, cold, hunger and trauma?

4) Why was a "common man" (with Z Plus security) allowed to visit Gaurikund with mediapersons in tow? Did this not disrupt the relief proceedings? Can every common man -- with no business to be there -- also fly to the affected areas with equal ease, especially when the state CM had prohibited all VIP visits?

5) Why no attention to the locals? In the last 10 days, the entire focus has been on saving tourists, but virtually no attention has been paid to the locals who live in abject poverty and who too have suffered a lot due to destruction. Could the state administration not have done this in parallel, or are locals not important? Has the state government even thought of enlisting the help of psychological counselling for the locals after the so-called normalcy returns to the hill state?

6) ​Why were the armed forces not given the charge of rescue operations right in the beginning? Most of the rescue work has been done by the armed forces and NDRF, with relief help from volunteers of RSS, DGPC and Baba Ramdev. What has been the state bureaucracy's contribution in relief work?

7) Is it true that the faith of local people was sidelined to "accommodate" hydroelectric projects? Locals believe that this step incurred the 'divine wrath' .

8) Why such haste in announcing a Terahvin Mahayagya (13th day prayers) by the Uttarakhand CM in Haridwar-Rishikesh? ​Was this hasty announcement intended to douse people's anger and score political brownie points when even the bodies have not been cleared from various places and last rites of these people not even done? Most people do not even know if their kith and kin have died, or are still alive.

9) Where are star cricketers, BCCI, film stars, socialite celebrities, top industrialists and so-called spiritual leaders? These people are eulogized as demigods in this country. However, so far most of them have not come forward to help, or express sorrow? We saw our cricketers break into a celebratory jig after winning the Champions Trophy, instead of saying they dedicate their victory to the memory of those who died? No matter how symbolic, it would have shown them a little sensitive, especially after Harbhajan Singh made good his exit from an ITBP camp where he was holed up after the disaster.

10) Why has the Uttarakhand government not invited the Red Cross and other international organisations to start collecting bodies and do a cataloguing of all dead and missing? By spurning all offers for help, is the state government waiting for an epidemic to break out? Why is the CM so allergic to aid coming from any quarters? Is prestige and political oneupmanship bigger than the lives and well-being of people?

11) Why did the state government not promptly enlist support of organizations like PFA, SPCA and animal husbandry department? It was critical to rescue hundreds, thousands of surviving ponies and other animals in affected areas and to bring them to safer habitat.

12) Why has it not bothered to gather a realistic estimate of the actual number of casualties even 10 days later, a number that is likely to be between 15,000 to 20,000?

13) Why were VIPs and influential people rescued ahead of others who were left to die, including old people, women and children in inhospitable weather?

14) Why is there no environment policy for hill states? Such a policy is a must forecologically fragile and seismologically risky states such as Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

15) Will the state government now amend its land ownership policy? In light of rampant commercialisation of our hill states, some locals feel it is required to discourage outsiders, particularly foreigners, from buying land.

16) Will any politician and bureaucrat care to answer why has mindless construction been allowed to take place in the name of development in Uttarakhand?

17) Why have so many hydroelectric projects been given the go-ahead in Uttarakhand only?

18) Why was 'Char Dham Yatra' commercialized so blatantly, instead of being made into a USP for Uttarakhand? Why was the Yatra not regulated keeping in mind the flow, the infrastructure and the weather forecasts in an ecologically sensitive area? Now, when it commences, it should be done with proper planning and taking into consideration all the aspects - religious and environment in particular.

19) Will the government -- at least now -- strongly come down on mining and construction on river beds? Rivers should be allowed to carry out the process of silting naturally.

20) Will the state government and other organisation show total transparency in tracking and announcing the receipt of funds and donations that they get?