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Millennium Post

Long winter in Uttarakhand

It’s now nearly three months since natural calamities wracked havoc on the mountainous region of Uttarakhand. This may be the correct time to take stock of relief and rehabilitation, as the view now may be dispassionate because of the time lag. Moreover, the rainy season is about to finish and winter is already round the corner. The condition of the recipient will get untenable if immediate help does not come before winter sets in. The task is stupendous as conditions up there are difficult.
The media must be credited to bring this tragedy to light. The credit must also go to the armed forces for speedy evacuation and to a lot of citizens who came risking their life to provide help.
The state government of Uttarakhand claimed that 96 per cent of the affected population has been provided relief and an inter-ministerial group has been sanctioned Rs 6,687 crores for reconstruction. Is all this hunky dory too good to be true?

The first thing that needs to be done is to win the confidence of 1.6 million people, who were affected in 4,200 villages from both Kumaon and Garhwal region. These people have now lost faith in the government.They say the sarkar has behaved like an outsider. What have we got from our own state is the common lament? People narrate their woes from Tehri Dam compensation. They say: ‘every year there is a natural calamity but where is our compensation? How can anybody else get compensation before us. We’re a pending case of 2010?’ And well, there are no easy answers. Series of disasters have taken place in the region and because of that the level of awareness is extremely high among the people. They know their rule book better than anybody else. The social milieu in Uttarakhand is deeply polarised and full of cynicism for one another. The two great institutions – press and intelligentsia – are seen with tinted glasses by the common man. The press is seen as an embedded and not as neutral gate-keeper. Whereas the intelligentsia is always seen against the dam lobby.

Holy men of Uttarakhand are seen as suspects as they went on strike against the 10 helicopter companies that were ferrying pilgrims. The irony is that they were the first ones to ask for help while evacuations were taking place. A strict sub-divisional magistrate was reverted as he banned polythene and the locals called a strike. Thus accusations fly thick fast and hard. The lower bureaucracy in a rare show, too, is seen as belonging to a certain camp, which is quite rare. Thus the common notion believe that only two things matter – family connections and cash. Is this what we call democracy?

The cause of the disaster has not yet been identified. Was it man-made or natural? Is the finger of suspicion on the hydro projects? The way ahead is still being debated. The acid test lies in winning the confidence of the tourist, who is still too afraid to visit the state.The loss of the tourism sector cannot be counted in monetary terms but the hardship and the misery caused to thousands of families who waited patiently for the tourists to arrive as their livelihood was dependent on them.
The culture of the administration with its lethargic attitude,   the lax small town easy culture of the offices says it all. There is no empathy for a fellow citizen.Every one exploits the system to reap the maximum benefits. The biggest stumbling to this problem is land, which is in acute short supply in the hills and controlled wholly and solely by the political class. There are a large number of problems, firstly identifying land, which includes land that is available for rehabilitation and some say also identifying villages that have been hit by disaster. There is an old Indian custom that with correct clout some villages which are in the periphery could be added to the list of those disaster affected. The rudimentary work of affected villages have been implemented now comes identifying those villages which have land available. A common crib by a lot of people who are doing rehabilitation work is that the areas earmarked have not been verified by various officials thus when they went there the land was not habitable. There is also the age old custom of environmental clearance, and the slow pace of geological survey, going to the mountains for work is not a part of work culture, mountains are only meant for family holidays.   

Recent events indicate a leadership deficit in the state and infighting within the ruling party. All this ensures that the void has to be filled up. This void is filled with the bureaucracy, therefore, it gets stronger. This ensures that procedures override necessity and the process will be caught in red tape. It just may be a long hard winter for Uttarakhand.  

The author is a retired brigadier
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