Category Archives: Uttarakhand Flood

Uttarakhand Floods: Nature’s Fury or Have We Dug Our Own Graves? – Part I

Uttarakhand Floods is probably the most debatable topic currently. Environmentalists believe that this is a man-made disaster. Chandan Das explores the topic in a similar strain. He believes that human beings have dug their own graves by invoking the wrath of Nature!

“And much it grieved my heart to think what man has made of man” – William Wordsworth

pemari

Ok I will start with a Fact: The Himalayan region is home to several major Hindu pilgrimage centres – beginning from Rishikesh and Haridwar where the River Ganga first flows out into the plains. Every year thousands go to do the Char Dham Yatra. On 15th June 2013 a calamity “Himalayan tsunami” arrived and a tragedy struck Uttarakhand that was waiting to happen for a long time now. The rivers flowing across the famed pilgrimage sites became so furious that they submerged whole towns, washing away shops, homes, hotels and lodges.  Buildings collapsed like pack of cards as swollen rivers pounded down the denuded hills making a poignant view. The lofty green mountains, that would inspire even a deadpan to break into a song earlier, became barren. Today, as I write this , almost 62,000 of pilgrims have been left stranded, 1000 plus lives have been lost (oh yeah, the toll is likely to rise), property worth crores and the world-famous pilgrimage Kedarnath, located at a height of 11,760 feet , has been damaged by the latest fury of the monsoon. But here is my point: The injustice man did to the rivers in the name of development have left the beautiful water bodies seething with anger. It seems like Nature wanted to restore the balance that was disturbed by rivers having to change their course and due to blocking of their natural flow in the name of progress!!

So is it just a Nature’s fury or have we dug our own graves?

The Uncontrolled Traffic: Do We Have the “Capacity”?

The valleys of the Yamuna, the Ganga and the Alaknanda witness heavy traffic of tourists. In any normal day, if you sit at the Prayag bridge for tea and start counting, one will notice 80 buses crossing in about 5 minutes. 80 buses in 5 minutes?? Yeah you heard it right!!

Figure this: In 2005-06, 83,000-odd vehicles were registered in UTTARAKHAND. The figure increased to nearly 180,000 in 2012-13. Out of this, proportion of jeeps, cars and taxis, increased the most. In 2005-06, 4,000 vehicles were registered, which jumped to 40,000 in 2012-13 – a whopping 1000 per cent increase!! The heavy pilgrim population has also resulted in the mushrooming of shanty towns, numerous ramshackle buildings and cheap accommodation along river banks. It’s a known fact that there is a straight co-relation between tourism increase and higher incidence of landslides. Road contractors, who come from outside, do not understand the mountains. Most of the expressways that are being constructed now are tangled in legal cases. After cutting of mountains, landslides continue for up to four years, and contractors go bankrupt clearing the debris.  We see more landslides nowadays because of unplanned development in the hills. Most of these places have much more tourist inflow than the area’s carrying capacity. A new (mountain) range like the Himalaya will remain steady if not tampered with much. But the huge expansion of roads and transport is bringing the mountains in Uttarakhand down!!

So was it just a nature’s fury or have we dug our own graves?

8-Uttarakhand-floods

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Dev Bhoomi Drowning

Dwaipayan Chakraborty writes about his travel to Uttarkhand a few days ago and ponders over what went wrong!

flood 1

It was alive a few days ago!

11th June I returned from Badrinath (Uttarkhand) about a week ago. My journey ranged from Haridwar to Badrinath via Joshimath & all the Prayags. Since childhood I had heard stories of hundreds flocking to these Great Dhams in search of salvation, but this visit was not for any religious motive but just as an enthusiastic adventure ride.

To me Haridwar/ Har ki Pauri was a place where people of various sects/races/class amalgamated to offer their prayers to the Almighty. One must be in the middle of the enormity in order to feel the energy and belief of us humans towards a Supreme Power. After having experienced the famous sandhya-aarti my journey continued towards Badrinath, with a stop at Joshimath/Auli, a bus journey of about 12 hours in moderately maintained Uttarakhand State Transport Buses. During this journey I crossed Hrishikesh, DevPrayag, RudraPrayag, KarnaPrayag, NandaPrayag, Srinagar, Joshimath, Govindghat  and many others too. The journey with the mighty mountains on one side and the Ganga on the other in the form of Mandakini, Bhagirathi, Alaknanda was indeed breathtaking. Deep gorges, sharp turns, shaky railings, crowded roads, stops at the dhabas for some quick grab made my travel all the more adventurous. I specifically remember Sikh devotees lined up along the roads with their saffron bands moving gradually towards their Holy place of Hemkund Sahib, people from Andhra arriving for their holy Char Dham Yatra. All a collection of chaos in those hills.

Now sitting at home and watching visuals of many of these places heavily affected by Nature’s fury does give me a chill in the spine. I was there just a week ago. What if I was among the thousands trapped, hundreds injured and many sacrificed? Before I left my father had casually warned me, I checked the weather forecast and showers were not expected before late June or early July. Yet it had arrived now, and in a titanic scale. Har Ki Pauri in huge waves of water. In Devprayag, RudraPrayag all the connecting bridges are now dangerously close to water levels resisting transport to ply. Further up market places of Srinagar are experiencing flood thereby making daily life all the more difficult. Chunks of roads have cracked and opened up. Large Stones loosening from the hill sides and being washed on to the roads. Rescue and private vehicles being gobbled up by the waters just like toys. Large housings near the river falling like delicate boxes. Heavy rain making the roads which already are marginally safe more vulnerable. Pilgrims towards Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath who have to make a certain journey on foot after a point all stuck praying to survive and safely return.

Such a reverse drama all in a week. While I was there the climate had a chill about it, often hot in the mornings but predominately cooler throughout the day. I remember enjoying my bus ride along with many others, often stopping on makeshift Dhabas, enjoying my meal which were insecurely made near the rivers. Houses lined up precariously close all along the river. People had turned their own homes into budget hotels in order to accommodate the large crowds. All the visitors were in a festive mood; everyone had come to unwind themselves, to find peace in the lap of their Gods. And ironically the scenario has drastically altered, now the festive mood has turned into a question of survival.

But the statistical numbers and the images prove yet again that Nature is too powerful to handle when enraged. The reasons, some known, others unknown are matters of research and rectification. National Disaster Management and the State and Central Governance often come into the picture post disaster. Having an aerial view of these places show the havoc created but being in the middle of it is another ball game. Stricter guidelines, implementation, frequent weather updates and proper crowd management along with self-awareness are the primary factors that could safeguard people. Calamities beyond our reach cannot be foretold but the reasons that triggering them can be taken care of.

With each passing minute, the prayers are getting stronger, the hope and faith remaining undeterred.

Uttarakhand: Water, Water Everywhere…

Floods and landslides have wrought havoc in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Submerged houses, floating buildings and corpses gives the feel of the D-Day! Here are some images of the flood which evokes pathos and fear.

flood 1Rishikesh: There couldn’t have been greater irony! The Lord of Destruction, too, caught up in the midst of  destruction and devastation.

flood 2Houses partially submerged due to the torrential downpour!

flood 3

People remove their furniture from their homes as the water level rises.

flood 4Army swings into action for relief from flood.

flood 5Dehradun: Houses partially submerged in the flood water

flood 6

Buildings topple into the river and is washed away by the current.