Uttarakhand floods: Humans, nature never fail to surprise

As the magnitude of the misery caused by torrential rains and flash floods in Uttarakhand is now dawning on the world, the death toll and the list of those missing appears to be frighteningly high.

Toll in the Himalayan Tsunami is bound to worsen with the death toll expected to cross 5,000, and almost 10,000 are still stranded awaiting help.

People of India widely believe that salvation can be achieved only after completing the ‘Char Dham Yatra’ — journey comprising the four Hindu spiritual pilgrimages – Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. Every year thousands of people throng these shrines to offer prayers and receive blessings from the holy Ganges. People visit ‘Char Dham’ and take a dip in the holy waters aspiring to wash away their sins and attain salvation.

But this year destiny had planned something else for these pilgrims. The holy waters turned violent and claimed many lives. A large number of people are still being rescued from the rain-wreaked Kedar Valley and other parts of devastated Uttarakhand. But those who returned not only complained not just about nature’s fury, but also about how inhuman people can be.

When a tragedy brings out the best in human beings, it also brings out the worst, otherwise hidden deep in our psyche. The human race that prides itself in being called the supreme species has failed its fellow brethren with its lack of compassion. The exploitation of distraught travelers by some opportunists saddened all. One would expect that the haves would step up to help the have-nots in this crisis, but human nature never fails to throw surprises.

As in the case here, many stranded people in Uttarakhand floods were forced to pay Rs 250 for a `parantha`, Rs 100 for a small pack of chips and Rs 200 for a water bottle. Sheer loot was being committed when everyone was so helpless that they had the strength left to fight back. According to media reports, gas cylinders were being priced at Rs 7000 and a pack of biscuits which otherwise costs Rs 5, came at forty times the price—Rs 200!

The chronicles of the people who survived the tragedy is extremely painful. The stranded people who were successful to fight against the rains found themselves helpless when looted by those who demanded an exorbitant amount for bare necessities like food and water. Some of them who were rescued by the Army had disturbing tales to narrate.

While relief operation is being carried out on war footing in the flood distressed areas and authorities are making all efforts to rush food packets amid reports that hundreds of survivors have gone hungry for days, had the locals shown a little concern there would’ve been much lesser casualties.

However, there is another side of the story as well. Several locals also played a genuine role in saving lives of pilgrims who are now able to return safely. People from small villages have poured out their bare necessities for the stranded and hungry. Some villagers set up community kitchens to provide food to the scores of those rescued. Not only this, they even vowed to dole out all possible help as long as their reserves last. Surprisingly, the helpers are yet not backing-off even as most of them are now left with no food and may even have to starve once the deluge is over.

Not only that, various groups of youth have setup vigils to protect both the survivors and the departed. NGOs were also making efforts to ensure the safety of ladies.

Amidst all the death and disaster, the Indian Army has also come in for some serious praise for its efforts to rescue the people from the flood ravaged areas of Uttarakhand. People have been saying that the army has given them a second lease of life.

Also the Indian Air Force (IAF) is playing a major role in saving lives by launching rescue operations in Uttarakhand and has made some extraordinary efforts, like the move to establish "an aviation fuel supply bridge" at Dharasu in Uttarkashi district to hasten rescue operations by helicopters.

The move described as "very innovative, yet daring" act by the IAF officials will allow additional fueling at Dharasu.

In an official release issued by the IAF said that the first C130J "Super Hercules" aircraft landed at Dharasu on an airstrip only 1,300 feet long on June, 23 despite inclement weather.

Other than India Air Force which is putting its best foot forward to help out the stranded, India’s state-owned corporate choppers have also come forward to help. Helicopter fleet of ONGC, Coal India, NTPC and Pawan Hans are leading the operation. Other privately owned helicopters have also chipped-in.

The tragedy has also not shaken the powerful survival spirit of humans. The unprecedented disaster that washed away the ‘Char Dham’ yatra could not shake the faith of many ‘sadhus’. Even the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) could not convince them to leave their chosen place of abode. It seems that the tragedy has reinforced their faith in the twin forces of ‘Shiva’ and ‘Shakti’ as the Kedarnath shrine and the ‘Shivlinga’ is safe when the rest of the town has been reduced to rubble. As a devotee of Lord Shiva I believe that evolution follows destruction.

In the same way nature has also proved that tampering with it could be dangerous. But the point to ponder here is — will people and government take lessons from this destruction? It might appear that cloudbursts and torrential rains are the reasons behind the Uttarakhand disaster, but a little fact-finding reveals that this Himalayan tsunami is a manmade disaster. We cut trees indiscriminately but forget to plant one, which in turn reduces the grip on the soil. The Government is also allowing exploitation of areas that are ecologically sensitive for commercial gain not caring for long term implications. For a better future and to maintain the sanctity of nature it depends on us as to how we maintain the ecological balance and keep the earth safe for generations to come.