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Catastrophe in Uttarakhand

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The recent catastrophe in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli is startling in view of its abruptness as well as its magnitude. Flash flood caused as a result of glacier-burst washed away the Rishiganga Hydel project and devastated part of Tapovan Project besides sweeping away nearly 200 people who were working in the projects. Scientists are searching for the actual reason of the catastrophe. Prima facie it seems that the disaster was not singularly of Nature’s making. There are anthropogenic misadventures behind it. By anthropogenic misadventures I mean human-hand in the disaster.

Doubts have been expressed as to whether due attention was given in the matter of geological and geotechnical aspects before conceptualization of the projects. The entire region being geologically fragile with mutating climatic conditions demands proper prior technical investigation. We often tend to forget to carry out rigorous technical investigation in such vulnerable zones in our eagerness to develop an area. For development to be sustainable we often ignore the fact that any intervention to natural processes overlooking the changes undergoing in climatic environs could lead to instability of developed structures. Doubts have been expressed as to whether prior geological and geotechnical investigation was carried out in the instant case pre-planning stage.

Moreover, the area is said to be the cradle of Chipko movement in 1970s. Indiscriminate deforestation in the affected region is also a cause. It has come to light that tunneling and blasting with explosives were resorted to for clearing the sites for construction, besides tree-felling. This was against the recommendations of Chopra Committee constituted by the Union Ministry of Environment. Hastily planned projects especially in eco-fragile seismic zones could do irreversible damages to sustainable living.

Well-conceived planning for any development work is a positive social value when we consider the probable impact of disasters on human life and national economy such as the one in question due to flawed and hasty planning. Decision-makers should be extremely careful while planning and designing projects in geo-technically and geologically unstable zones. Development without disturbing environmental equilibrium demands technical fore-sight. Balancing the two factors viz development and eco-sustainability is not easy. It requires technical pragmatism based on practical experience.   

We know of quite a few such big projects that are being carried out in different parts of the country in eco-fragile zones. We are not sure if a relook at the on-going projects in such vulnerable areas will be worthwhile at this stage. But still a review may be considered to lessen the magnitude of damages and may help pre-empt future calamities.