Lukewarm response to catastrophe
SIR, The devastation in Uttarakhand has been massive both in terms of human life and property. Yet, the response of the authorities has been lukewarm. Regretfully, the nation as a whole doesn’t seem to be overly concerned. There was a time when social welfare organisations would go from door to door to collect donations, clothes, utensils, medicines, and so on. Attitudes appear to have changed over time. Not that people in general are insensitive, but as yet there is no nationwide effort to organise relief. The National Disaster Management Agency has failed.
It devolves on the Union environment ministry to coordinate relief and rehabilitation and also ensure that ecology is not disturbed. The development of the state must be safer and sustainable. The enormity of the tragedy has deepened with reports of loot and molestation. Only the Army and the Air Force provide a ray of hope. The only bright side is the relief work done by the defence personnel who have evacuated hundreds of thousands of people.
Yours, etc., Achyut Mukherjee,
Howrah, 29 June
‘Divine realm’ in ruins
SIR, ~ Nature has been cruel in a part of the country that believers would call the "divine realm". The villages of Uttarakhand are in ruins.
The Union home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, has called it a ‘national calamity’ and the Uttarakhand chief minister, Vijay Bahuguna, has described it as ‘Himalayan tsunami’, a phenomenon that is no less devastating than the oceanic tsunami.
It may be some time before the actual casualty toll is ascertained because people have been buried under buildings, roads, shrines, and dams. Kedarnath and Rudraprayag are among the worst-affected areas. One prays for the safe return of those still stranded and missing.
Hats off to the jawans who are conducting the rescue operations.
Yours, etc., Rabindranath Sarkar, Kolkata, 25 June.
SIR, The media and the government are still not sure whether the calamity in Uttarakhand is rooted in ecological imbalance. The flash floods, cloudbursts, and landslides could well be Nature&’s revenge in this holy land, polluted by vehicles and the construction of hotels, lodges and cottages.
There are six dams and four barrages in Uttarakhand, which together run 11 hydro-electric power plants to generate about 2600 MW of electricity.
The dams have damaged the Alakananda river and the tributaries of the Bhagirathi at Tehri, Ramganga, Dhauliganga, Koteswar and Ichari. There are barrages that span them at Bhimgora, Pashulok, Dakpathar and Asan. Loharinga Pala has the biggest hydel power project. Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy and international ecologists have warned the government about the ecological damage that could be caused by these dams and barrages.
Last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chaired a meeting of the National Ganga River Pollution Control Board, following a fast by GD Agarwal, former Secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board, and an IIT Kanpur professor.
Both demanded a stop to the construction of more dams and barrages in order to save the bio-diversity of this splendid Himalayan plateau.
Yours, etc., Bibekananda Ray Kalyani, 24 June.
… and fury
SIR, The unprecedented disaster symbolises a lethal cocktail of Nature’s fury and human greed. It is the latter that has destroyed the ecological balance. To an extent, therefore, the catastrophe is man-made. Despite periodic conferences, both the developed and developing nations are reluctant to halt the greenhouse gas emissions. Global warming has endangered the planet; the level of the sea has risen across the world. If Nature continues to be exploited in the name of development, it will strike back with greater ferocity. The world must protect Nature to protect itself.
Yours, etc., Aranya Sanyal, Siliguri, 27 June.