Seminar on 'Lessons and Challenges from the Devastation' in Uttarakhand

The frightening aftermath of the devastation caused in June 2013 in the Himalayan State of Uttarakhand is far from normalising. Most of the roads could not be opened. The BRO, whose responsibility is to maintain the NH roads going to the borders of the State, has failed in resuming normal traffic on the NHs. The Vijay Bahuguna-led Congress Govt of the State is desperately trying for an acceptable image of itself by flooding people with constant advertisements in popular media.

The CPI(ML) through several agitations constantly tried to expose the truth on the issues of providing relief to and rehabilitation of the victims, be it Dharchula or Munsyari in Pithoragarh, or whether it was Joshimath in Chamoli district. Simultaneously, the Party is also sustaining a process of dialogue and debate on the reasons behind the severity of calamities and on the possible ways to tackle them. As a part of this effort a discussion/seminar was organised by the CPI(ML) on 1 September 2013 at Srinagar in Garhwal.

The seminar was titled “Lessons and Challenges from the Devastation.” Addressing the gathering as the main speaker, Party CCM Comrade Raja Bahuguna said that Uttarakhand has been made to bear such a gigantic brunt of nature’s rage because successive governments arrogantly refused to heed the warning bells being rung for long by scientists, political-social activists, and common people of the State.

Debunking the hype around the ‘reconstruction’ of Uttarakhand, he held that reconstruction without thoroughly altering the model of development will only wreak more havoc for sure. A people-friendly rebuilding of Uttarakhand is possible only by completely reversing the currently dominant anti-people policies. He said that saffron leaders like Uma Bharti and Swarupanand Saraswati are attempting to deflect people’s attention from real issues, objective reasons for the devastation, and Government’s failure by spreading superstitions. Relief funds are being swindled away and therefore he demanded that the State Govt must publicise the details of relief funds received and spent.

Geologist Dr. SP Sati of HNB Garhwal University said that the mindless use of explosives in roads construction, hydro-electric projects and unregulated growth, and the dumping of resultant rubble in the rivers amplified the destructiveness of cloud-burst several times over. Citing the data from recent research on the large number of hydro-electric projects in the lap of Himalayas he said that the region is turning into a ‘water bomb’.

CPI(ML)’s Garhwal Committee member Comrade Atul Sati, citing various scientific studies to show that the hydro-electric projects are chiefly responsible for the scale of devastation. He demanded that the owner companies of these projects be held responsible and accountable for the destruction and filing of criminal cases against them, and be made to pay compensation. He announced that on 9 September a maha-panchayat of those villages under Joshimath block, long awaiting rehabilitation, would be organised at Joshimath. The State Govt is deliberately lowering the number of affected villages just like the refusal to admit the actual number of deaths or those injured.

The President of Teachers’ Federation at Garhwal University, Dr. Mahaveer Singh felt that the disaster multiplied in its ferocity due to collapse of the state machinery. Subhash Gairola, President of Karnaprayag nagar panchayat, said that the commercial establishments on the encroached land of river banks will continue posing a threat.

The floods in June dumped massive amount of debris in more than 50 houses in Srinagar (Garhwal). This debris was dumped by the GVK company that is overseeing the Srinagar hydro-power project. Manav Singh, ex-President of HNB University students’ union and a victim of the disaster said that the local Administration is not able to gather enough courage even to hold the GVK responsible and this business house has the gall to try divisive tactics by offering money and contracts to a group of individuals to win them over after the June disaster.

A concept paper for the seminar was read by CPI(ML)’s Garhwal committee member Ashish Kandpal. The paper contended that the disaster of June 2013 should be called State or system-manufactured rather than calling it natural. Proposing ideas about land for resettlement and rehabilitation the paper said that it is not sufficient to simply relocate people randomly in rural areas, rather their farming, cattle grazing land, and water sources, should be part of the resettlement plans. The paper suggested possible land sites for relocating the victims of disaster and it also pointed to thousands of acres of land being held illegally by erstwhile landlords, and several thousand acres of farm land whose lease has gotten over are still being held onto by private interests.

The retired Principal and CPI(ML)’s Garhwal committee member Comrade KP Chandola presided over the proceedings of seminar. There was enthusiastic participation by a large number of teachers, students and people from and outside of Srinagar.

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