A year ago in June, calamity had struck in Uttarakhand when landslides combined with flash floodsÂ wrecked the state. Pilgrims to Kedarnath and Badrinath didn’t have the slightest idea that their journey to this hilly shrine of worship would be the worst they would have to face. The helplessness of rescuing teams in reaching theÂ victimsÂ raised furious questions; how did a shrine which attracted hundreds and thousands of people each year from all over the country have such uncoordinated disaster management plans?
Kedarnath: What has changed?
After one whole year, it is expected that maybe now these frequent cloud bursts and landslides would be taken as an ominous warning rather than a usual occurrence. But sadly, Kedarnath continues to be open to pilgrims again with only a few improvements. The route used by the pilgrims was reopened on October 5th, after a meeting between religious groups, temple managers and the then chief minister of Uttarakhand, Vijay Bahuguna. What’s interesting is that religious groups and even seers were included in this meeting, thereby making us ask, why the administration is dependent on auspicious dates for something which was not anticipated by any of these seers. Sources say the reopening of the shrine was fast tracked because the administration wanted to restore normalcy as fast as possible. But normalcy is yet to come for the thousands of families, who’ve lost their loved ones; when some of them still missing. 17 more skeletons wereÂ found near the Kedarnath valley last month, according to Times of India, making it clear that we are yet to deal with much more of the aftermaths before considering opening Kedarnath for more people.
There has been some tug-of-war between the temple committee and the Archaeological Survey of India regarding the restoration of the temple. According to the President of the temple committee, the ASI is not being transparent in its use of the government grant of 35 lakhs for the restoration of the temple, as told to PTI. However people returning to their homes in Kedarnath are still finding it hard to believe that the ravaged buildings and looted houses are what they used to call home a few months back. Women who have been deprived of the breadwinners of their family are supporting their families by weaving, sewing and various other skills. In this scenario of steady reconstruction, even a minor landslide can undo all the efforts.
Is another disaster “waiting to happen” in Kedarnath?
As that time of the year has approached when pilgrims start arriving in Kedarnath again, the main question that arises is- what is being done? Or rather, what different hasÂ been done this time to ensure safety of these pilgrims?
The number of pilgrims has considerably dwindled since last year, from almost 14000 – 15000 per day to 400-500 per day. It is still a considerable number of people. Along with registrations, the pilgrims have now been given SOS and emergency apps. Weather bulletins have been improved to give advanced warnings about any heavy rain spells or weather changes. But other environmental factors leading up to disaster are being completely ignored. The question remains as to how the people have been equipped for dealing with this disaster. According to Dailymail, the Uttarakhand disaster was a disaster “waiting to happen.” As the Kedarnath area expanded and civilization spread, more and more trees were felled for the purposes of housing and lodging. Construction was done without flood planning and on river beds. The use of dynamite in creating paths in the rocky terrain and incessant mining further weakened the land to the wrath of the nature.
Reconstruction has started from the very day waters started receding, but there has been no mention of ecological restoration. Political issues have always clouded decisions and actions in the Uttarakhand area, for example in 2008, the Doppler radar system was sanctioned but not purchased because of conflicts between the National Disaster Management Authority, Uttarakhand government and the Indian Meteorological Department. TOI reports over 9000 hectares of crops and 3000 hectares of cultivable land were destroyed in last year’s floods. The loss of fertile top soil and extreme soil erosion is also causing ecological imbalance, which is being overlooked as well.
The damages done by human hands all these decades cannot be undone in a year or two. The peaceful hamlet of Kedarnath has been shook economically as well. Dwindling tourist numbers, destroyed business establishments and loss of resources, both natural and human, have not helped matters either. Kedarnath will not be able to experience another fury of nature and continue standing. Hence, we need much more than just advanced weather warnings and rapid reconstruction.
Thus, environmental protection should play a key role in the reconstruction of Kedarnath. Only with the state and individuals working together, the shattered infrastructure and economy of Kedarnath can be rebuilt again. But for withstanding, sustainable development, people need to be educated about how to use their resources responsibly, and learn to give back to the environment.