Warning system, environment study may have prevented Uttarakhand tragedy

Samrat Sengupta, an authority on climate change impact and renewables, says that conservation of natural resources should be seen as a part of any development project

Rescue
NDRF teams carry out rescue operations at tunnel in Chamoli | Photo: PTI

 

Highlights of the conversation:

1. The flash floods in Chamoli, Uttarakhand, can be attributed to two main anthropogenic or man-made aspects:

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a. Unjust and very dense interference in the fragile Himalayan eco-system with so much of infrastructure being built like hydel power plants, roads etc.

b. Rising temperature due to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change caused by human activities, resulting in glacial melting faster than what it should be resulting. In all, it causes imbalance in glacial mass which results in avalanche, temporary lake formation etc.

2. A report published by Dr Anil Agarwal, the founder of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), in 1973 warned of calamities in the Himalayas that we are seeing today.

3. An early warning system should have been made available from the government side, especially when we have the technology to do so. Such a warning system could have given us 2-3 days to evacuate people and minimise loss of life and even property to some extent.

4. The approval documents of such big projects have provisions for setting up an early warning system. The question is why it has not been implemented as was committed?

5. Important questions: Is the Environmental Impact Assessment of a project, say a hydel power plant, done before implementing it? Even if the assessment is done, is it implemented? There is a certain breach at the implementation level, which hints at corruption in the system.

6. There was a time when environment protection was seen as anti-development. Time has changed and that perspective does not hold true anymore.

7. Today, conservation of natural resources should be seen as a part of any development project.

8. If a developmental project, like a hydel power plant, has short-term benefits but long-term loss, then what is the point of having such a project?

9. Unless we find the middle path between development and nature conservation, there won’t be a solution which is sustainable in the long run.

10. Since pre-industrialisation days, the world has believed in a development model which looks at a few economic indicators, mostly faulty ones, to conclude that more consumption means more development.

11. Earth’s resources are limited, and the idea of unlimited growth is a mirage. If we do not contain our consumption today, the human race will soon pay a heavy price for it.

12. When we talk about increasing consumption, we conveniently forget that millions of people, especially in India, are deprived of access to assured commercial energy. They do not even have the luxury of having a minimum standard of living.

13. Our per capita energy consumption is half of world average. Our development model is very city-centric or centralised. For example, a person living in Delhi has a much larger ecological footprint than someone living in a village on the outskirts of Delhi. There is no equity.

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