This preliminary report on Uttarakhand floods by National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) finds that “climatic conditions combined with haphazard human intervention” led to the disaster. State Emergency Operation Centre (SEOC) 1070(Toll free)(code 0135 from outside Dehradun Phone No.
DMMC, located in the Uttarakhand secretariat compound, is to generate the sense of worth amongst common people and the government authorities in formulating appropriate policies and strengthening their capabilities to cope up with all aspects of disaster management.
Rescue operation: The armed forces have worked tirelessly to help flood victims, but why was the NDMA's role so unsatisfactory? The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has slammed the NDMA's functioning in a report tabled in March 2013. While the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is in a state of inertia, state disaster management authorities (SDMAs) are virtually non-functional. State governments have been advised to spend about 10 per cent of the disaster response fund to train the disaster management force and purchase equipment meant for disaster management.
It is about 10 days since Uttarakhand was hit by torrential rains and cloudburst of a scale not seen in the state in over 50 years, which, along with accompanying floods and landslides, have caused untold devastation in the state. Thousands of locals and out-of-state pilgrims on the famous char dham yatra routes (to the 4 holy sites of the Kedarnath and Badrinath temples, and the Gangotri and Yamunotri glaciers and temples) have died, many villages have been totally destroyed, many towns have suffered horrendous damage, and several roads and bridges have been swept away. A more detailed assessment of the disaster management undertaken will no doubt be done by authorities at both State and Central levels later, both so as to identify problem areas and so as to put in place adequate strategies, capabilities and institutional mechanisms to be able to cope better with the next calamity. Yet even at this stage, even while the tragedy unfolds, some things are quite evident and need to be understood and borne in mind. Scientists are now much more confident than a few years ago about the linkage with climate change. The scientific reasoning behind why such extreme weather events take place, and why they can be attributed to climate change, has been clear for quite some time. In the Indian monsoons, rainfall data going back to the late 19th century available from Indian Meteorological Department weather stations all over the country show that the monsoons are arriving later and withdrawing later, by roughly two weeks on average. Whereas it is known that more extreme weather events will take place, that there will be more days of heavy rainfall, that the monsoons are shifting to a later period, climate change also makes weather events more unpredictable. There has been a great deal of comment in the media about the management of rescue and relief operations in Uttarakhand, and as discussed earlier, even preliminary discussions about reconstruction and rehabilitation have not taken place.
The Disaster Management (DM) apparatus at both Centre and State, with the exception of the paramilitary NRDF comprising battalions from the CRPF, BSF, CISF and ITBP, has itself been an unmitigated disaster. The first and perhaps most important element of DM is preparedness, which has been self-evidently and woefully lacking. It is not yet clear what role the National Disaster Management Authority has played in the post-disaster scenario, but given the developments of the past ten days, one is left wondering if there was at all any DM Plan for Uttarakhand and what if any steps had been taken to build disaster response and management capabilities in the State. The State Disaster Management Authority is virtually non-existent, not having had a single meeting the past several years. At the time of writing, reports from the ground by the media, NGOs and social workers all reveal a virtual vacuum of disaster response other than the military and paramilitary.
But hundreds of villages have been destroyed in the Kedar valley, Rudraprayag, Uttarkashi, Pauri, Chamoli and elsewhere. One understands of course that in disasters of such magnitude, local administration officials, police and health workers are also among the disaster-affected and it therefore takes time for them to get organized, leave alone activate themselves for first response. Pilgrims on the char dham yatra have no doubt had a harrowing time, but at least most of them have been rescued, with the military taking the lead role with respect to their travails. The growing road infrastructure, urban centres and their commercial facilities, and yatra tourism have all grown far beyond the carrying capacity of these fragile mountainous areas of the Shivaliks and Himalayas, or at least have not been planned and executed keeping this carrying capacity in mind. Everywhere, at the national and the international levels, what the human race faces, is the making of its own nemesis - The Tyranny of Unaccountability. So, who is responsible for the death of the number of pilgrims who had come to visit the shrine ? Assuming that Uttarakhand state itself was unable resolve such major issues which are of international concern, could not the Central government, have put together a central team of competent persons who, understand 'sustainable development' to address the issue without getting bogged down on intractable issues as Ecology over Man scenario ?
The other obvious question of Disaster Management is left out as it has already been answered. More than 170 hydropower projects and a number of sand mining projects have been approved and some of them are underway in the state. I don't think I need to add any more on the culpability of the local and the national level politicians.
What is significant is " The state Congress unit has been plagued by bitter infighting ever since the party high command ruled in favour of Bahuguna and not Harish Rawat for the chief minister’s post". To give credit to Shri Bahuguna, he certainly appears to know what he is talking about when he declares "My concern is that we have to strike a balance between environment and development. The aftermaths will be borne by an average Indian citizen(s) who shall mourn, wonder and carry along, perforce. After all, in today's social scenario, 'with great power comes immense opportunity to exercise it indiscriminately and avoid accountability in case of adverse consequences '.
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Type the characters you see in the picture above; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Dehradun : Realising that the state government could come under heavy criticism of the centre and will have to face the ignominy of justifying why no action was taken despite the meteorological department having warned of heavy rains and possible cloudbursts in the higher hills of Uttarakhand, the cabinet ministers are resorting to petty lies to pass on the buck.
Uttarakhand disaster management minister Harak Singh Rawat boldly claimed on a national TV channel that after the government got the warning, it stopped the ‘chaar dham’ yatra well in advance.
Petty lies Mr Rawat, for it is now confirmed that the state government neither issued any warning to the pilgrims enroute to the four shrines, nor stopped the yatra at any point.
Confirming that the state government and its ministers were resorting to lies to save face and pass on the buck, former Bihar health minister Ashwani Kumar Chaubey, who reached here after an odyssey he faced during the Kedarnath yatra said that, before starting, he asked the district magistrate about the weather, but was not told of any warning of rains or cloud bursts.
Asserting that he was within the temple premises with his relatives when the water and debris came cascading down, he said that seven members of the group accompanying his were missing, while the body of two had been found. Not mincing words Chaubey said that there was zero effort in the name of disaster management in the state and even four days after the tragedy, the administration could not even reach the worst affected areas, where the maximum casualties occurred. Shakuntla Gusain, a resident of Delhi, who is also a rare survivor amongst those caught in the tragedy at Kedarnath said that while returning to Gauri Kund, the weather got bad and they decided to stop at a guest house at Ram Bara.
The pilgrimage was on, nothing had been said about the weather taking a turn for the worse, and the rains caught them unaware, she maintained. She said that but for the rains everything seemed to be normal, the pilgrims either on their way up or down were lodged in the guest houses at Ram Bara, but suddenly at five there was huge blast and the guest house immediate below where they were staying where about 500 pilgrims had checked in for the night went cascading down into the Mandakini. Apparently Mr Rawat is telling lies, for not a single pilgrim, who has been evacuated from the various shrines has corroborated what the disaster management minister has said about the yatra being stopped at various places.
Had it been done and the pilgrims moved to safer places the number of dead and missing would have perhaps been much lower. Ironically, the minister has said nothing about the CAG exposure that no Disaster Managament Board had been constituted in Uttarkhand and no meeting had been held since 2007.


The state had not even planned what steps needed to be taken should there be a disaster, which is perhaps why eye witnesses on return told the media that rather than letting the pilgrims board the helicopters first, the police and district administration personnel were amongst the first to board the choppers and get out of the danger zone. In fact, according to reports, the state government was blissfully unaware that heavy rains had hit the higher hills, for the report it sent to the centre did not mention it.
And while Uttarakhand was hit by its gravest tragedy in memory on Sunday-Monday night, the state government became aware of it only on Tuesday, because of which relief and rescue operations were badly affected. The truth is that when the gravity of the tragedy hit the state government and the bureaucracy, they felt that rather than getting involved in the rescue and relief operations, as if not done properly the move could backfire, it was decided to ask the central government and the union home and defence ministries to take up the exercise on the plea that Uttarakhand neither had the officials nor the wherewithal for a tragedy of such magnitude. Meanwhile the bodies of the tragedy victims have started reaching Haridwar and Shyampur from where fifty (50) bodies were fished out today. But the task still remains grim as about 50,000 people are still stranded awaiting evacuation, though over 30,000 are reported to have been evacuated. Meanwhile for the first time chief minister Vijay Bahuguna has said that the death toll could be very high, which officials admit could be in thousands. Jagdish BhattA journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt is Editor Hill Post (Uttarakhand).
Jagdish has worked with India's leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications.
A highly acclaimed journalist, Jagdish is a recipient of many awards, latest being the 2011 Development Journalism Award.
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Most NDMA projects, conceptualised soon after it was constituted in May 2005, have failed to get started.
Projects like earthquakes, flood and landslide risk mitigation have been in cold storage despite being approved way back in 2007. For instance, the CAG says that as much as 59 per cent of the nation's land area is prone to moderate and severe earthquakes; 23,000 lives were lost in six major earthquakes between 1990 and 2006.
Despite several proposals for setting up of SDMA in all states for overlooking disaster management, the states have not responded. Even Uttarakhand, which is one of the most vulnerable states because of frequent landslides and cloudbursts, does not have a body for disaster management.
The material damage and the toll on people has been so heavy, and the civil administration has been so unprepared, disorganized and overwhelmed, that a week into this disaster even the essential rescue work is still incomplete, while relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction have not even begun to be envisaged. Hopefully, the considered opinions of experts, academics, social organizations, panchayat representatives and others would also be taken on board.
In the midst of relief operations or while dealing with the numerous detailed aspects of reconstruction and rehabilitation, or even while writing up post-disaster reports recommending follow-up actions, some basic even causal issues are often forgotten or ignored.
The pattern of development in the Garhwal hills, the poor planning and worse implementation with respect to settlements, infrastructure and tourism, the nexus between political, bureaucratic and commercial interests leading to numerous sins of commission and omission, all these have contributed to and enlarged the scope of this disaster.
The increased occurrence of cyclones, tornadoes, heat waves, excess rainfall and flooding in recent years has been well documented.
First, the increase in these incidents is well above the standard statistical variation seen over the last many decades.
Rain or snow fall, in other words precipitation, takes place because water vapour in the atmosphere condenses upon cooling.
The late arrival and departure of the monsoon rains, combined with the different temperature profile in the changed period, is expected to have a serious impact on agriculture and crop yields. For disaster preparedness, the key lesson is to take note of these broad trends, and be prepared for the worst in terms of heavy rainfall and resulting floods, more severe storms, heat waves and droughts. The Armed Forces, along with some paramilitary forces such as the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the National Disaster Response Force (NRDF), have performed not just commendably but remarkably in the still on-going rescue operations mainly targeting pilgrims and the occasional airlifting of relief supplies. This is obvious from the poor condition of the roads, the lack of earth-moving equipment anywhere in the disaster zone, the total absence of any measures to anticipate the flooding and take precautionary flood control or protection measures near settlements, and the obvious absence of state or local level first responders who have perforce had to be military and paramilitary. The Disaster Management Act of 2005 had envisaged a paradigm shift from the usual pattern of post-disaster response to a pro-active, integrated disaster management system with emphasis on prevention, steps to minimize impacts and preparedness for dealing with disasters when they occur. And the National Authority, the NDMA, had been without a Head till one was hurriedly appointed several days after the Uttarakhand calamity. Hundreds maybe thousands of local inhabitants have lost their lives or been seriously injured, numerous people are still missing, tens of thousands have lost all their property and been rendered homeless.
But this is precisely where leadership plays a role, be it from ministers or elected representatives or from bureaucrats and the police.
The local inhabitants, the people of Uttarakhand, have unfortunately been completely left to themselves, with nobody to hear their laments or look after their needs.
But its people are certainly paying a heavy price for decades of poor or no planning, rotten implementation, corruption, collusion of public authorities with vested interests, and a willingness of certain sections to go along with ad hocism and violations of norms for short-term gains.
For those who have not visited Uttarakhand, visuals on TV and in the print media show densely packed multi-storeyed houses, hotels and other properties almost on the waters edge. Garhwal has long been known for its poor road infrastructure, even in comparison with the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, a story of neglect and backwardness that questions the logic of a new hill state.
A proposed River Zone Regulation, along the lines of the Coastal Zone Regulations, to regulate construction, commercial and other activities along river banks has been under consideration for long but has never seen the light of day. Today, there are very few, amongst the powerful, whether it be the Corporates, Financial Institutions , Politicians, Executive arm of the governments (including the Judiciary) or the Media who will voluntary accept that their actions of commission and non commission vide the power vested in them have had far reaching consequences on helpless individuals. The fig leaf of 'glacier breakaway, a symptom of universal global warming' is available to cover up the issue of accountability by the Uttarakhand government for Kedarnath, but what about the rest of the region ? Entire river basin, from Hanumanchatti near the pilgrimage town of Badrinath to Haridwar was affected.
Almora has been declared as a town suffering from the brunt of cloudburst by authorities of Uttrakhand.
Environmental activists and residents have already expressed their reservations on the projects. Even politicians who play Cassandras, might have to live to see the death of Atlantis.But, then history vindicates their stand and clothes them with credibility.
Jyotsna Sitling, an Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer in the state, received the 2004 award for clearing the Valley of Flowers of garbage.
The report mentioned that as the forests of Uttarakhand, which cover nearly 65 per cent of total area, value about $1,150 a hectare a year, people from the state should be compensated for preserving the green cover at the cost of development. The whole institution of legislative power and executive prudence is to ensure far sighted prudential growth even if it involves unpleasant socio-economic situations. If there is economic backwardness there will be migration from my state, I don't want my people to migrate.
The Media which would like the weather cock swing from wringing hands to strident reproaches when there is a local backlash ? When we started there were about 100 of us but only eight managed to reach the top, others being swept down by the boulders that were rolling down the hill. Less than a couple of months before the recent cloudbursts devastated Uttarakhand, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had cautioned that the state is unprepared to handle disasters.Headlines Today accessed the latest report of CAG day after highlighting how the autonomous watchdog had warned the central and state governments three years ago against setting up of too many hydroelectricity projects in the disaster-prone hilly state.


The Prime Minister is its ex officio chairman, and its vice-chairman equals a Cabinet minister in status.
And it doesn't take an official report to realise that landslides in the hills and floods in some parts of the country are an annual feature.
It was noticed that NDMA selected projects without proper ground work and as a result either the projects were abandoned midway or were incomplete after a considerable period," the CAG report says. Before getting lost in the minutiae of logistical issues, detailed disaster management plans, procurement and placement of equipment, manpower training and so on, all of which are undoubtedly important and necessary, it is crucial that we also step back and look at the larger picture, at underlying factors and issues, so that long-term preventive, precautionary and preparatory measures are taken alongside those to deal with disasters after they have occurred. And even the main causal factor behind this calamity, the extraordinarily heavy rainfall, can be at least partially attributed to societally-induced climate change that has resulted in erratic monsoons and increased incidence of extreme weather events worldwide.
But how do we know that these are taking place because of human-induced climate change, rather than to the usual variability in weather?
The military in particular has shown yet again that it stands out among institutions in the country as regards preparedness, capability, performance efficiency and dedication.
This would involve preparation of response and contingency plans, building capacities in the civilian administration including the police, instituting physical measures including acquisition and deployment of equipment and working with local communities to build disaster preparedness in the population as a whole. Pilgrims have herded together by themselves and waited for military helicopters to airlift them, with no local authority to organize orderly rescue prioritizing women, children, the aged or infirm.
Many thousands of people from various parts of Uttarakhand, who move to the disaster zone during the yatra season looking to earn some additional income or even as their main cash income for the year, have been severely affected.
Victims of a calamity largely man-made and certainly compounded by governmental callousness and incompetence. Now roads have certainly been built, especially along the yatra routes and linking major towns.
All concerned would do well to remember that people of the Uttarakhand hills have long suffered due to lack of roads and communication infrastructure, poor access to health facilities and to markets for their produce.
Over two years from now when an NGO to quote from the article 'This follows a PIL by HESCO, a Dehradun-based NGO, in the High court praying that the government should be directed to make provision for the measurement and periodical review of the "gross environmental protection" in Uttarakhand in view of the deterioration in overall quality of the state's ecology.' One significant issue spoken about was 'Anil P Joshi, founder of the HESCO, said since Uttarakhand is known for great rivers like Ganga and glaciers like Gangotri, as per records the average rate of recession of Gangotri glacier is 20 meter per annum which is very alarming'. But the two main political parties–the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress–chose to keep silent on the controversies surrounding the projects. What fig leaves for the politicians who stood by and took no heed to any of the NGOs concerns ? In the organisation category, the Garhwal Regimental Centre got the award for exemplary work in turning Lansdowne, the regimental centre located in the Garhwal hills, into an ecological paradise". There was also a strike by mule operators, trapping a large number of pilgrims in the Kedar Valley from where bodies are still being recovered by rescue teams". We took the polythene from dead bodies of man and mules to save ourselves from the incessant rains. Other members, mostly retired bureaucrats and police officers, rub shoulders with ministers of state. A senior bureaucrat in a state government who closely worked with the NDMA in the last two years explains what plagues this body. After all, it rains more in some years than others, there are floods in some years and droughts in others.
Just as the decade 2000-2010 saw nine out of the ten hottest years in this century, so too in the past several years unprecedented quantities of rainfall have been recorded over very short periods in many instances all over the world. But the civilian administration in Uttarakhand in particular, and that at the central level as well, has shown itself to be thoroughly incompetent, unresponsive, ill-equipped and unwilling to or incapable of learning the right lessons and institutionalizing requisite changes. It is obvious that none of this has been done in Uttarakhand, a state known to be prone to a variety of disasters and which has suffered major calamities in the recent past, for instance the infamous Uttarkashi earthquake of 1991. While rescue efforts have proceeded apace, with close to 100,000 people mostly pilgrims having been evacuated to date, little or no relief operations such as provision of food, temporary shelters, first aid or medical care, clearly not the mandate of the military, have been visible.
No attention has been paid to any of these local people and their problems, no arrangements have been made for food, medical care or shelter. But the roads are of poor quality, the road-cutting leaving already the unstable hillsides even more bare and unstable, prone to landslips even during normal rains, and proper measures for stabilization of the slopes are not taken.
Singh, who is an ecologist, was the mind behind the report for Leadership for the Environment and Development and Central Himalayan Environmental Association'. We spent four days without food or water when a chopper finally came, but two of the eight survivors were blown down the hill into the river by the strong wind from the chopper rotor”, she claimed. Much more frequent Category 4 and 5 hurricanes have occurred in the Atlantic and the Pacific in each of the past few years, massive snowstorms and blizzards have hit North America and Europe in the winter of 2011, unprecedented heat waves and drought have hit the US, France and Spain.
All the focus has been on pilgrims, which is understandable to some extent since they are outsiders without local shelter, care or support systems. Blasting and other such techniques are often used unscientifically and without due precautions, damaging not only hill slopes but also nearby habitations. What about the continuing phenomenon of landslides (heavy rains, not cloud burst) and buildings crumbling ? At the district level, 44 per cent posts in the district emergency operations cells were vacant, thus paralysing emergency response efforts.
In 2012, Beijing in northern China saw as much rainfall as is usual in southern coastal provinces, and 170mm of rain fell in Beijing just a 17-hour period with some pockets recording over 520mm, breaking all known records by a huge margin.
They serve at the lowest levels and are a hard working lot, but with the associated bad, good and ugly aspects of any migrant population. That, awards are presented for cleaning, dusting, swabbing the place to beautify it and make it more tourist worthy while the issue of a dying ecology is ignored is well ???!!!! And who can forget the torrential rains in Maharashtra in 2005 when Mumbai received a record 666mm of rain in a 24-hour period with some city areas recording 944mm! If this migrant population is being substituted by the Nepali immigrants back home, then there shall be another unpleasant situation which as usual, no politician will be willing to address, timely. Our politicians by and large are expected to make money (depending on their personal integrity, some priorities might be excluded) for themselves, the party, their business cohorts and off course, don't forget the populace (always through legitimate means - advances through financial intermediaries.
Currently the force is without a director general and the ITBP chief Ajay Chadha is in charge.
From the people (taxes) through the people (government machinery & financial institutions) and unfortunately at some point of 'to the people' it becomes 'do in the people'. The NDRF, which was envisaged to be the nodal force for carrying out relief and rescue operations, is not well equipped to take on the challenges of tragedy like the one in Uttarakhand. The IMD followed a standard format of weather forecast and used certain terminologies like rainfall, heavy rainfall, but how are we supposed to translate it into action? Non-procurement of equipment, manpower management, poor infrastructure and deficient training were areas that need to be addressed.



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Comments

  1. SEBINE
    Into a trash bin, it dawned on me that it could be cleaned and every single driver to figure out their level.
  2. RESUL_SAHVAR
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