The causes of the disaster in Uttarakhand are not just natural but also appear to be manmade. Though extreme rains may be responsible, it is also the unregulated growth of infrastructural projects in the region that has made it vulnerable. It is not just the question of unchecked growth but also of the particular model that the government is following, which is increasingly that of a public-private partnership which may affect its capabilities to meet disaster. It is in the context of the disaster in Uttarakhand that the United Nations’ Global Assessment Report on disaster risk reduction has to be taken seriously. This report, from the UN’s Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, has analysed many of the country’s largest infrastructure projects for their risk exposure to natural and man-made disasters. It has warned India that the private public partnerships that are emerging as a preferred mode of investment for publicly managed construction does not necessarily lead to improved disaster risk assessment and management. It goes on to say that these partnerships may underplay disaster risks or lead to their transfer as shared costs to the public sector or to city residents. According to this report, the government has less control over its private partners with the latter having little interest in the long-term safety of the projects.
With the country having several hundred crores worth of investments for infrastructure development in the 12th Five Year Plan, there is immense scope for greater economic losses from unsafe public property facing disaster risk, not just in ecologically sensitive zones in the hills or near the sea-coast but also in centres of urban population such as Mumbai and other cities where large PPP assets are planned. The UN report has correctly warned that the risk of disasters is increasing owing to a variety of factors that include economic and urban growth, natural and artificial subsidence, sea level rise and climate change. There is no doubt whatsoever that high standards have to be met so that disaster mitigation and reduction is inbuilt in the development of these infrastructure projects. The government has to ensure that its future projects comply sufficiently with the norms so that disasters such as the one in Uttarakhand do not take place. For this to happen, the government must do its own evaluation of public-private partnerships to fathom if it aid disaster mitigation, otherwise it must choose an alternate model.