Hari Jaisingh
Opinion

Looking beyond human tragedies

We still hear the echo of Kerala’s massive tragedy in the wake of Nature’s Fury in Kerala in August 2018. Why could Nature be so furious and unkind to the people of “God’s own country”? The same agonizing question could be raised with regard to the recent repeat of the 2013 human tragedy in India’s “Devbhoomi” of Gangotri, Joshimath, Badrinath, Kedarnath and Pindari Glacier and tourist centres of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh.

An equally pertinent issue amidst the massive calamity is to talk about the quality of the leadership at the Central, State and operational levels. I do not wish to see this through the prism of colours, whether white, green, red or saffron etc. As a journalist, I see our leaders on the touchstone of their understanding of the complexities of each situation and their response to the heart-throbs of the suffering people. This is where my disappointment begins.

Of course, there could be variation in every individual quality, from the Left to the Right. I am not going into their merits and demerits. My concern is: why this Nature’s Fury and where have we gone wrong while playing with Nature in policies, planning, development and governance?

My wider question is: in a federal democratic system of ours why should our Central leaders conduct themselves as Mai Baap and Anna-Datta like the Maharajas of yesteryears? The job of assessing a calamity ought to be left to an experts’ panel along with a joint parliamentary committee while ad hoc assistance and grants could be given promptly by the Central Authority. This is what democratic governance is all about.

Be that as it may. The only silver lining in an otherwise gloomy setting in “God’s own country”, Char Dham and other flood affected states is the heroic efforts of soldiers of the mountain division, paratroopers, Navy and IAF’s rescue operations, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) persons and volunteer fishermen with a fleet of about 600 boats to rescue villagers in Kerala.

We also must acknowledge the people’s response all over India to extend their helping hands voluntarily to the millions of Kerala people who have suffered the worst floods in a century. The state government estimates a loss of Rs 20,000 crore. The Centre’s grant of Rs 7,00 crore for the massive task ahead is far from adequate. What is disquieting is the play of politics in this unprecedented human tragedy.

There is a daunting task ahead in controlling multi-dimensional diseases and related health issues. The NDMA officials have moved forth with 3 R approach – Rescue, Recoup and Rehabilitation. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has already sounded a call for a “New Kerala”. But constructing a new Kerala is a gigantic task. It cannot work unless we learn from the past mistakes. For the present, the main challenge is management of pre and post floods solid waste. These are matters of details, best known to experts.

To quote an expert: “Just development of big storage dams may not help. When it rains heavily, the dam gates are opened which leads to excessive flooding. Instead, “we need to work on flood management, which basically means removing encroachments from traditional water flow zones and allowing excess water to flow smoothly into the ocean.

According to the Central Water Commission (CWC), the floods are responsible for deaths of 84 per cent of people in all natural disasters in India”. Former CWC chairperson A B Pandya says in his study that there is a need for effective pre and post-disaster mechanism as “nature cannot be checked but disaster can be reduced” in its impact on the life and the economy.

The World Wildlife states: “We are losing 18.7 million acres of forests annually, equivalent to 27 soccer fields every minute”. It must be remembered that the forests play a vital role in controlling climate change. The WWF suggests that 15 per cent of all green house gas emissions are results of deforestation. However, the moot point is: who will tackle the deforestation mafia gangs generally working in close collaboration with politico-bureaucratic patrons?

Floods, landslides and alarming degradation of the environment have continued decades after decades because our politicians have allowed “unbridled quarrying, mining, building of high-rise dams and constructions and power plants”.

What is equally regrettable is a number of studies on ecological disasters conducted by experts languish in several corners of the establishments without any concern and follow-up actions.

No wonder, disasters come and go. What else can we expect in today’s “democratic environment” of India when the sole mantra of large sections of persons at the helm and their collaborators is:

“Takka Dharm

Takka Karma,

Takka hi takk takkayate”. That is, making money (Takka) is both dharma and karma in today’s money-oriented society.

Finally, I would quote a tragedian of classical Athens Euripides who said so succinctly:

“Who rightly with necessity compiles

In things divine we count him skilled and wise”.

It is a pity that our rulers in their intoxication with power often overlook human tragedies.

Well, we will have to challenge the near non-working status-quo of new development concepts and perspectives so as to avoid a repeat of the tragedies in Kerala and the holy Himalayan region. This should not be difficult in today’s ‘informatics’ society, provided information itself is not contorted and twisted by the vested interests of the powers-that-be. Both Kerala and ‘Devbhoomi’ deserve better deals, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.