Uttarakhand tragedy: Why was a disaster plan not ready?

The Land of Gods has turned into a ghost town. The images of devastation in Uttarakhand due to flash floods and landslides have sent shivers down one`s spine. The north Indian state which used to boast of some of India’s mightiest rivers and tributaries is now crying aloud the stories of devastation, destruction and death. The scene of nature’s fury is so horrible that it is now being dubbed as a ‘Himalayan tsunami’.

The images of destroyed homes, crumbled buildings, and thousands of people trapped in the debris, stranded in the hills tell a horrid tale. The rage of overflowing rivers depicts how nature exacts revenge. Environmentalists have noted that the act of mindless construction of homes and hotels on the banks of the rivers, mushrooming hydel projects, construction of dams, cutting mountains in the Himalayan region are all the reasons behind the devastation of such mammoth proportions.

The floods have exposed how vulnerable Indian disaster management system is. Even days after the tragedy, the operation to airlift those stranded in rain-ravaged parts is not as swift as it is expected to be. Although the Uttarakhand government has said that over 33,000 people have been rescued, more than 50,000 pilgrims are still stranded at various places across the region, ravaged by floods and landslides.

Forty-five aircraft and helicopters are involved in the rescue effort. The personnel of National Disaster Response Force and Indo-Tibetan Border Police are trying hard to rescue those stranded at various locations. The Army has deployed more than 100 special forces’ troops. But the point here is, how much resources have they been provided with?

A number of accounts of survivors reveal the difficulties being faced by them. Braving cold and hunger, the stranded people have expressed gratitude towards the Indian Air Force and Army personnel for lending them a helping hand. But the criticism of the government is widespread.

The plight of those stuck in hills reveals the failure of the government to provide basic necessities to those who are in dire need of them. It`s true that the government is sending food packets, but are they being received by those who actually need them. And when they are airdropped, the receivers complain of receiving food which is stale.

One has to acknowledge the difficulties being faced by those involved in rescue activities in carrying out their operation at high altitudes. But how can the failure of state disaster management system be ignored?

In April, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had issued a report stating that Uttarakhand has no disaster management plan to speak of. It also pointed out that that the State Disaster Management Authority, which was constituted in October 2007, has never met till date.

"The state disaster management plan was under preparation and actionable programmes were not prepared for various disasters," the report says, indicating that the ecological system is at stake in India.

Not just plagued by inadequate communication system, the state disaster management authority didn`t even have basic personnel in place. Lack of funds for the state`s disaster management in 2011-12 adds to the apathy of the authorities who are supposed to be ready to ward off any emergencies.

As soon as the tragedy occurred, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party in opposition, was quick in blaming the ruling party for the "man-made disaster". It shows the quality of politicians the country has, who in the time of emergencies indulge in blame game than contributing anything towards relief work. BJP must not forget that it was in power for five years preceding last year’s Assembly Elections.

Why is the common man paying price for the inexistence of Uttarakhand disaster plan? CM Vijay Bahugna shall have to answer.