Category Archives: degradations

Were India’s floods caused by reckless human greed?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/terra-india/2013/jun/24/india-floods-himalayas

Cataclysmic floods in the northern state of Uttarakhand are reminder India must act to save its fragile mountains

Floods in India : Shiva statue being washed away once more in Rishikesh, Haridwar in Uttarakhand

A new Shiva statue being washed away in Rishikesh, Haridwar in Uttarakhand, India, during floods on 20 Jun 2013. Photograph: Indian Photo Agency/Rex Features

Natural disasters often follow a predictable path in India. A flood or an earthquake happens every few years, the government blames the vagaries of nature, the right sympathetic noises are made, and all is forgotten until the next one comes along. But last week’s cataclysmic floods in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, surrounded by the Himalayas, have provoked a debate on whether this particular disaster was caused – or at least worsened – by reckless human greed.

At last count, 5000 people are feared killed, and the number is expected to rise further. More than 33,000 people have been rescued in an amazing effort by the Indian army, but an estimated 19,000 victims are still stranded.

On the face of it, the floods seem like a calamity that was unpreventable. The Indian meterological department reported a record rainfall of 385 mm during the first few weeks of June, which is 440 per cent over the usual rainfall. But green groups say that while a cloudburst may have been the immediate cause of floods, the region has been slowly eroded by rampant development. Too many roads, hotels and buildings have caused the valley to collapse like a stack of dominoes.

The government is blaming a massive “tsunami”, but this easy blame masks its criminal neglect of disaster systems and history of ignoring danger signs. A report released by the Comptroller and Auditor General in April 2013 revealed that the State Disaster Management Authority has never met, has received no funds, and has framed no plan to cope with disaster, despite a series of deadly landslides over the past few years.

Development in the Himalayas has long been contentious. Both the ruling Congress party and the opposition BJP party have insisted that the people of Uttarakhand want, nay need, development. On 18 December 2012 the Ministry of Environment and Forests declared a 135 km stretch along the river as an eco-sensitive zone, which meant that construction along the river, especially hotels and hydropower projects, would be banned. But the Uttarakhand Ministry passed a resolution against the zone, and chief minister Vijay Bahuguna hastily met the prime minister to argue that the order was opposed by local people because it would affect their livelihoods. End result: the order was ignored by the state government.

But greens allege that successive governments from both parties are colluding with land and construction mafia to skim off profits from construction. It’s supremely convenient to argue that locals want development at any cost, but has anyone asked the people of Uttarakhand how they feel about lethal landslides every couple of years?

Then there’s the iffy question of dams. Politicans love them, and currently around 70 dams are supposed to be built on the River Ganga. Many green groups say they are not against all dams. “We really need to move beyond this ‘All dams are bad’ philosophy. No one’s arguing that sometimes we need dams, but do we really need 70?,” asked Dr Sunita Narain,environmentalist and director general of the Centre for Science and Environment, speaking on the popular TV talk show “We the People” yesterday. More importantly, Narain pointed out that there is no clear cut policy on dams, and no thought given to how many dams should be built, where, or how.

Meanwhile, no one’s talking about the fact that growing numbers of religious pilgrims are putting huge stress on the Himalayan ecosystem. The Hindu shrines of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri were visited by a staggering 30 million people this year. A move to restrict the entry of pilgrims would be immensely unpopular in such a religious country, which explains why political parties refuse to discuss it. But experts, including geologists, have suggested regulating the entry of tourists.

In hindsight, of course, politicians are full of helpful suggestions. The good news is that Union minister of state for environment Jayanthi Natarajan is now strongly supporting an eco-sensitive zone, though a mere 135 km may not make much difference. “Uttarakhand must not compromise on its ecology,” Natarajan is reported as saying.

Too little, but hopefully not too late. India needs to come up with an action plan to save its mountains, one that takes the mountain people into consideration, restricts pilgrims, considers dams carefully and aims for sustainable development. Not easily done, but if the government doesn’t get its act together, expect more disasters in the future.

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‘It is time to repent for turning Uttarakhand into honeymoon spot’

http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-time-to-repent-for-turning-uttarakhand-into-honeymoon-spot/20130622.htm

June 22, 2013 17:27 IST
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Dwarka peeth Shankaracharya Swami Shree Swaroopananda Saraswati

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
In a twist to people’s understanding of Uttarakhand’s monsoon mayhem, Dwarka peeth Shankaracharya Swami Shree Swaroopananda Saraswati has blamed the sex-food-fun oriented consumerism propagated by tour operators in the land otherwise known as “dev bhoomi” for the plight of thousands of pilgrims.

In a telephonic interview from his ashram near Haridwar, the Shankaracharya told rediff.com, “Uttarakhand is the land of gods and goddesses. Here Lord Shiva holds Ganga in his jata (hair). It is the highest tapsaya (penance) possible. Shiva bore the force of the Ganga all alone so that she can flow seamlessly. How can you have honeymoon tourism in Uttarakhand instead of pilgrimage to cleanse the soul and attain nirvana?”

Asserting that these mountains were not for the newly-married to enjoy their honeymoon, the religious leader suggested that the disaster was also brought upon due to the dams that have been built on rivers of Uttarakhand.

ediff.com  » News » ‘It is time to repent for turning Uttarakhand into honeymoon spot’

‘Government must cleanse the Kedarnath temple with panchamrut’

June 22, 2013 17:27 IST
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He said, “I want government to find out the sphatik statue of Shankaracharya’s samadhi near Kedarnath temple. It is part of our heritage. I am deeply pained to see so many deaths. I want the government to act now and stop promoting dubious tourism. There should be complete ban on building of dams as well.”

Hailing the Kedarnath temple as a national monument, he said: “The rest of India should help Uttarakhand maintain its environment. The lack of development will create shortage of electricity, but the rest of India should supply electricity in this divinely natural region. We must protect our ancient rivers at all cost. Seventy percent of the water from Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers will deplete if we build dams recklessly.”

The Shankaracharya also said that the government should clean the temple complex as soon as possible.

“The government must cleanse the Kedarnath temple with panchamrut (A mixture of milk, curd, clarified butter, honey and sugar). It is time to repent for our wrong deeds.”

Uttarakhand: ‘Silt has reached ceiling fans in homes’

June 21, 2013 12:36 IST
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Road torn up by river during Ganga Fury exactly above the final confluence of the Ganga at Devprayag

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A Correspondent

A Rediff.com correspondent spells out the trail of destruction in Uttarakhand as it tries to come to terms with the catastrophic monsoons.

The impact of the flash flood in Uttarakhand has been immense downstream as well. The toll and the number of still-stranded survivors is difficult to asses and authorities are also not making any guesses right now.

The bells in Haridwar were not chiming early on Thursday morning and the Nataraj taxi stand was virtually empty in Rishikesh. There were hardly any takers to go up the hill that is usually bustling with activity at all times in day and night at this time of the year.

Most of that traffic is usually directed towards Kedarnath and Badrinath — the two popular places of Hindu pilgrimage in this Himalayan state.

Ahead of Rishikesh, Shivpuri is devoid of any activity and the tea stall owners in Byasi sit glum-faced with no hope of the Kedar-Badri business this season or for a while. The Kedar-Badri route generates the highest revenue in this area.

The government has said it’ll begin work on the roads this year but it is impossible to clear the malba and silt left by the flash flood all over the roads.

Near Devprayag, the final confluence of transcendental rivers that culminates into the holy Ganga, the river has expanded and eaten into the roads.

Uttarakhand: ‘Silt has reached ceiling fans in homes’

June 21, 2013 12:36 IST
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Srinagar has been severely affected by the flash flood.  On Thursday evening, after a gap of five days, water supply was restored in parts of the hill town.

Sections of the town, which are on the banks of the Alaknanda-Mandakini rivers, have been submerged.

This includes Shastri Vihar, where nearly a hundred households had been displaced due to the flood.

From the version of several residents of Shastri Vihar, including Md Shajid and Munna Rawat, the water rose late on Monday night. According to these residents, following incessant rains, the water rose above the perimeter of the ShashastraSeemaBalAcademy’s wall, crossing around 300 metres, rising above 12 feet.

“We were lying awake and the children had gone to sleep as it was 1 am. Around 1:30 am, on the night between Sunday and Monday, I saw the water had crossed the SSB academy campus and was at its boundary wall. I started warning others and went home to pack a few things. At around 2:30 am, the wall cracked and we made a run for it. The water was already at our feet by then,” said Manoj Kotiana, a resident of Shastri Vihar.

What followed has not been seen in more than a century in Srinagar — the water rose and submerged the houses, vehicles and livestock there.

Yamuna crosses danger mark, threat of flood looms over Delhi

http://www.niticentral.com/2013/06/19/yamuna-crosses-danger-mark-in-new-delhi-people-brace-for-worst-case-scenario-92154.html

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