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On June 16, 2013 Uttarakhand received 340 mm of rainfall, 375% above the daily normal rain during monsoons. What followed was mayhem, scripted by natural forces and compounded by man-made failures. The first line of defence — the state machinery — failed to react on time, delayed evacuation and its tardy rehabilitation processes eventually led to Congress chief minister Vijay Bahuguna’s resignation.
Last year, after the proportion of the tragedy became clear, disaster management specialists marked out several man-made factors that were also responsible for the large-scale tragedy. They marked out two important factors: The unabated expansion of hydro-power projects and construction of roads and expansion of transport to accommodate ever-increasing tourism, especially religious tourism. A new range like the Himalayas, they reasoned, cannot remain steady if it is tampered so much. The Central Electricity Authority and the Uttarakhand Power Department estimated the state’s hydroelectric potential at some 9,000 MW and planned 70-odd projects on its tributaries. To build these, the engineers were modifying — through diversion to tunnels or reservoirs — the natural course of rivers. So a year later, one would have expected the state to be cautious while chalking out its future development plans. But that does not seem to be happening: While tourism has been regulated, when it comes to hydropower, the state seems to have not learnt its lessons. Even though a Supreme Court-appointed panel blamed existing hydel power projects for the disaster, the state government has managed to obtain clearance for the Lakhwar Vyasi hydropower project in the Yamuna valley. This special attention on hydropower projects at a time when many of the flood victims are yet to get their compensation, many district roads are yet to be built and, more importantly, the new weather radars are yet to be put in place. At present, the state does not even have its own radar and it has to request vital weather data from New Delhi and Patiala. The micro-rain radars, lightening detection systems and 12 compact severe weather detection radar systems, which were all promised, are yet to be in place.
The state seems to be playing with fire, once again.