The Tragedy of UTTARAKHAND - Can it Repeat?
Some images showing the divinely beauty of this place, Uttarakhand, in the past
Uttarakhand in The Past
Uttarakhand, also known as Dev bhoomi (Land of Gods), was blessed with unprecedented natural beauty and divine serenity, making this place look like heaven on earth. The birth of this state in India took place on November 9, 2000 when it got segmented from Uttar Pradesh to form the 27th state of India. The northern part of this state is covered with snow clad high Himalayan peaks and glaciers, whereas the lower foothills, consisting of almost 64% of land area, is densely covered by forests. The forests served as a natural habitat to diverse flora and fauna. Some unique species of animals found here like bharal, snow leopards, leopards and tigers along with rare herbal plants and tall trees were the treasures of this place. It is the place of origin of the holy rivers Ganga and Yamuna. From the tourism point of view, this place is a treasure house of natural beauty which attracts many people all over the world. The famous tourist spots are hill-stations like Nainital, Bhimtal, Mussoorie, Almora and Ranikhet and among the national parks like Corbett National Park and Tiger Reserve which give a glimpse of the wild life in that region. Haridwar, Badrinath, Kedarnath and Jageshwar are places of pilgrimage and people come here with hope of attaining salvation.
Images of devastated Uttarakhand
Uttarakhand - The Current Scenario
The present Uttarakhand is devastated and broken into pieces. The fury of nature has created havoc in the form of cloud bursts claiming 5000 lives and leading to the disappearance of nearly 1 lakh people. The sacred mountains and rives which used to support the lives of native people of Uttarakhand and thousands of pilgrims visiting the place had suddenly shown its subdued wrath on the people living there. A multi-day cloud burst took place in this region from 14 to 17 June 2013, which led to heavy rainfall, triggering the overflow of rivers in this area.
Global warming has brought drastic changes in the climate schedule across the world. We have lost the well-defined seasonal cycles. Global warming is considered to be one of the several reasons behind the tragedy of Uttarakhand. Monsoons had arrived two weeks earlier in the state when the mountains still retained the winter snow. Melting of the snow glaciers together with heavy rainfall increased the volume of rivers significantly leading to heavy floods. Huge landslides along with flood waters added to the misery as these massive landslides destroyed several buildings and structures and claimed the lives of many people trapped under them.
Is Uttarakhand tragedy a man-made calamity?
Environmentalists and geologists unanimously opine that human activities had significantly contributed towards this tragedy. This event could be averted if people realized the aftermath effects of their environment unfriendly activities and if strict regulations were imposed to stop them.
Some of the glaring causes behind this tragedy as studied are:
Should such reckless tourism be promoted even though it offers a livelihood to many people?
Indiscriminate Mass Tourism
As Uttarakhand is a beautiful place and well known for its temples, this place has been attracting tourist population. Tourism is the main source of income for many people living here and the government has also encouraged tourism to a large extent. The natural beauty of this place had been badly abused to promote tourism. Forests have been devastated to provide all facilities to the tourists and pilgrims like hotels, shops, good roads, etc. Gone are those days when people used to walk on foot for miles together to visit these temples. Mountains have been dynamited to create wide 4 lane highways amidst of these mountains. This increased the frequency of the landslides further destroying the trees on the slopes. The slopes became instable making the mountains fragile. People never considered if the land here has the capacity to withstand such mass tourism.
Instead, government should have promoted a sustained development of tourism without harming the place per se. Regulations to restrict the number of tourists and constructions in this place could have helped to safeguard the natural serenity of this place. However, every thing cannot be done by the government alone. Each individual also bears some responsibility.
Many of us are regular tourists. Lush green forests, natural flora and fauna are rarely visible to our eyes in the cities. So we usually prefer to go to locations where we can enjoy the natural beauty during our vacations. But have you ever thought how many times we leave the plastic bottles, bags and our waste in the untouched forest areas. Would we entertain an intruder into our house? The same is with the animals living in forests. They lose their natural behavior. We use vehicles like jeeps to get close to the animals’ natural habitat. The noise from these engines disturbs the animals. Pollutants from these vehicles (oil spills, nitrogen and sulfur-laden gasses, lead-based residues) slowly add the same type of toxicity that is already prevalent in the cities.
Do you remember any tourist location in the nearby area which has gradually lost its natural beauty just because of over tourism? Have you thought how you can prevent it?
Is industrialization the only route for development?
Indiscriminate Construction of Dams
Hydroelectricity is the main source of power in this area. Hydropower is a renewable source of energy generated from falling water. The Indian government had been overambitious about the synthesis of hydropower and supported the construction of a chain of dams on the same river in an unplanned manner. Even though a dam helps to synthesize renewable energy, the construction of a single dam is associated with large scale destruction of the natural ecosystem in that area. For example, the events like blasting and construction of tunnels increased the number of landslides in that area. As a result, the debris got accumulated in the river beds and the river beds could not accommodate the increased flow of water. The thick forest cover on the areas of dam construction were cleared which lead to increase in soil erosion and landslides.
No doubt that power station keeps our life going as it acts as regular source of electricity for us which has become one of the basic needs. But, what is the use of such development which cannot save lives. Dams provide bread and means of livelihood for many people, but what is the use of such development which can clear a huge number of residents belonging to these hilly regions in a single calamity. Can we not have a sustained development without affecting the environment in the local area? At an individual level we should think multiple times before wasting power or utilizing for entertainment purposes. Each unit of power consumed by us is at the cost of environment. So, if we make use of power in a more constructive manner, the necessity of dams or other power generation sources would be reduced to a great extent. Similarly, other uses of energy as for travel (both for work and for entertainment, tourism) can be controlled at an individual level.
Rampant Mining of the River Beds
An increased infrastructural demand has led to indiscriminate mining of river beds to promote the huge supply of the constructional material. Sand mining should be conducted in an extremely responsible manner as excessive in-stream sand-and-gravel mining leads to degradation of rivers. The bottom of the stream gets lowered leading to the bank erosion. Geologists of Uttarakhand had raised an alarm long back to stop all the mining activities in that area, but alas! These warnings were ignored. Some people carried the mining operations posing threat to bridges, riverbanks and nearby structures.
Lesson Learnt From Uttarakhand Tragedy
This tragedy has taught that the repercussions of the un-mindful human interventions can be dangerous as Mother Nature is not going to tolerate this level of incursion. In many areas of the world, rapid industrialization has brought the natural ecosystem to the brink of extinction and we can expect such calamities to occur more frequently.