This Article is From Jun 20, 2013

Uttarakhand flood: Disaster natural but damage man-made?

Dehradun: As Uttarakhand grapples with one of the worst natural disasters the state has faced in recent years, questions are being raised on whether a lot of the destruction was man-made.

Indiscriminate development in the hill towns, with guest houses, hotels and all manners of illegal encroachment taking place along the rivers, it was a disaster waiting to happen. Since 2002 there has been a ban on building within 100 meters of the river bed.

But also in focus is the Uttarakhand government's resistance to declaring an environmentally fragile area as 'Eco Sensitive' and whether the state government was prioritising commercial concerns over the environment.

In December 2012, the Centre declared the 100 kms stretch along the Bhagirathi river from Gangotri to Uttarkashi an 'Eco Sensitive Zone' which meant no development was permitted there.

However, in May 2013 Chief Minister Vijay Bahugana met the Prime Minister along with a delegation of his ministers and gave him a letter asking that the notification be taken back. The Chief Minister argued that the move was being opposed by the people who lived in the area as it would deny them the much needed development and infrastructure, and would also restrict the number of tourists, which would be a blow to the state's economy.

He also said that stopping construction would affect national security as the region, which borders China, is strategically significant and roads are needed for the movement of Army personnel and supplies.

And it's not just the Congress that's opposed to the 'Eco Sensitive' zone. In 2011, BJP Chief Minster Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank had also written a letter to the Environment Minster, opposing any move to notify an 'Eco Sensitive zone'. The state assembly, cutting across party lines, had unanimously passed a resolution, opposing any move to declare the Gangotri-Uttarkashi stretch as an 'Eco Sensitive' zone.

But with the state currently reeling from a disaster, the full impact of which is still unknown, Uttarakhand will have to face difficult questions over its choices and may have to rethink its priorities.