Unperturbed by the widespread criticism of shoddy management in Uttarakhand, chief minister Vijay Bahuguna says it was nature’s fury and not a man-made disaster. Excerpts from the interview:
Aren’t you rattled by the widespread criticism?
I am not unnerved by the criticism as I am answerable to my conscience but yes, I am crestfallen.
Why this feeling that the government is inactive?
Are the agencies involved in the rescue like the army and the ITBP not part of the government? How can a part of the government be singled out? It’s a national crisis and requires collective action.
Then why were you heckled by the families of the victims as well as your party MLA?
The army and the ITBP have decided to evacuate women and ailing on priority. The women were angry as their men folk were still stranded. As for the local MLA, he has to sing the same tune to avoid facing his people’s wrath.
How does Uttarakhand, perennially hit by natural disasters, not have a disaster plan?
The state disaster board has not met in the last six years, which includes one year of my tenure. I will convene a meeting and draw up a contingency plan. But we had trained police and PAC personnel and they were deployed.
Don’t you think it was a man-made disaster?
Not at all. Do you think the cloudburst at Kedarnath happened because of wrong or commercial construction on the river beds of Haridwar?
Kedarnath doesn’t even fall in the eco-sensitive zone and the dhabas on the walk path couldn’t have triggered calamity of this magnitude.
It would have been man-made had we not provided relief spread over 26 points in rough terrain.
Does this mean that you plan to continue with development projects?
Without tourism development will take a hit. It will lead to poverty, unrest and migration and raise a major security issue.
We share borders with China and Nepal and the former has built road right up to our borders while our soldiers have to walk through 65 km of rough terrain.
What’s your suggestion now?
The Centre should set up Himalayan Development Authority on the lines of National Disaster Authority headed by the Prime Minister with chief ministers of the states as its members.
So, you propose to go ahead with hydro projects?
If you take a decision, then stick to it and not scrap it because some activists raised uproar. There was such a hue and cry when the Tehri dam was built. Had it not existed, the entire western UP would have been washed away. I am going to develop a township, a tourist centre at Tehri.
What’s the status of hydro projects?
We got nod for 53 run of the river hydro projects and we have started the process for 36 of them. We will roll them out for bidding by December after getting all clearances. By 2016, Uttrakhand will be a power-surplus state.
Your take on illegal mining.
We need mining, but it should be selective and scientific. It’s a major source of revenue.
Rebuilding Uttarakhand will take time.
Centre would give us financial aide. Kedarnath shrine is the pride of Uttarakhand and we will rebuild it in consultation with ASI and saints.
Did Modi give you any tips on disaster management?
Modi offered to send engineers who had built Bhuj after quake. But I told him our geographical conditions are different.