Disastrous Management of Uttarakhand : II

Ever since reports of distressing ground situation from the remote border regions of parts other than Kedarnath-Ukhimath and  indifference on the part of local administration have appeared in Garhwal Post there has been sudden interest in media and public at large about the Kumaon region. Weather remains inclement through out and with the slightest sign of a drizzle electric supply is switched off and mobile towers are shut down, adding to an already unbearable situation of logistics in the field. One wonders what is the use of such technologies, in the hilly regions, which have not been able to address such problems, which further reduce effective time during the day for a much larger agenda. We have had as many as 7 or 8 Uttarakhand Science & Technology Congresses in our state so far, but perhaps addressing such practical problems is not in their focus. One problem with this new state has been that the mountain problems continue to be looked at either from Dehradun or Haldwani, that during during the best season, with a view to ensure maximum attendance by scientists of repute coming from out side the State ! UCOST would do well to convene the next Science & technology Conference, in a mountain region, only either during the Monssons or in December-January, to get a taste of science and technology problems of hill regions. President Kalam did once fume at the number of flights delayed due to reduced visibility during winters, challenging the technical genius of this great country.

As the so-called Nodal Officer and the local SDM continue monitoring ground situation, sitting in Tehsil Office, using mobile and just trusting the ITBP post at Milam, surrounded by those who do not have much to do with any aspect of either relief which has to reach the remote regions of providing solutions, the local people are left to their own small and inadequate devises to try out their best.                                                                                                                                                                                                       

George Fernandez Formula

Most of the Bureau Chiefs reaching out to me seek my advise on “quick-fix” solution for remedying the kind of problems being faced presently. I only remind them of what solution our late Defence Minister, George Fenandez effectively applied, when he ordered the Joint Secretary of Defence Ministry to stay and visit Kargil during the freezing conditions and find out for himself whether the demand of the soldiers for snow-mittens was justifiable or not ! I do not remember whether the Joint Secretary of Defence Ministry visited Kargil personally or not ( I do not think being a smart alek guy he would have ) but the pending file to purchase snow-mittens was cleared immediately. All that is required for Chief Minister Bahuguna to solve most of the local problems, which have so far been discussed in the preceeding two articles will be immediately solved, is just to order Commissioner Kumaon camped at salubrious Naini Tal, accompanied with Brigadier of the BRO camped at Champawat, Chief Engineer PWD, camped at Almora, DM Pithoragarh, camped at Pithoragarh, immediately take off , as a team and make a personal visit, to the remote 14 villages of Malla Johar region and similar villages of Darma and Byanse valleys and submit a written report to him on just ( i ) roads, ( ii ) food-grains, ( iii ) medical and health conditions and compare what the same with what the Nodal Officers posted at Munsyari and Dharchula have reported so far ! Not only the difference would shock the visiting officials but also all the senior officials sitting in Dehradun and Naini Tal, who would serve this state hugely if they could just start taking action for misleading and incorrect reporting. Most of the follow-up action would take care of neglect of most of these aspects accumulated during past two decades or so. The George Fernandez solution is the cheapest, can be effectively implemented during the weeks of rainy season and when these regions start receiving heavy snows, in December-January.

I have been a strong votary of abolishing redundant posts like the two divisional Commissioners, in a small state like Uttarakhand, where even the Chief Secretary can talk to each DM on a daily basis, more than two three times. Then we have let the whole world know that we do tele-conferencing. Well, if that be the case how do we justify neither the Divisional Commissioner Kumaon, DM Pithoragarh not having camped for a few days at least at Munsyari and above Dharchula to see for themselves the real gound-situation ? Persons like me, who have held these and similar posts would like the common public know that there is absolutely no justification for the Kumaon Commissioner and DM Pithoragarh not having visited the severely affected border villages during this season, when they were needed most. Both these officers, to say the least, have abandoned their first responsibility towards the public by remote monitoring through the so called Nodal Officers, who in turn have just emulated their seniors by hardly moving out from their “field offices’, by camping at tehsil headquarters.

Chief Minister Bahuguna, as the next three months are going to be quite difficult and trying,  would do well to direct both the Commissioner and all border district Distratic Magistrates to immediately leave their district headquarters, leaving the so called monitoring by mobile job to one of the Deputy Collectors, and personally undertake tours of all most affected villages and not revert back to their district headquarters, till all arrangements have been made and they are allowed to return to their district headquarters, after the Chief Secretary has satisfied himself. Unless these worthier are not made to traverse the roads themselves, seen the ground conditions, they would not know how misleading the reports of their field officers could be. This writer plans to file RTI applications to the effect as to how many days these so called field officers were in the field and what they did do by way of addressing what the people have been made to undergo. What has been suggested for Commissioner Kumaon and DM Pithoragarh, based on Munsyari situation, equally applies to all districts presently affected by this unprecedented natural calamity. Chief Minister Bahuguna would do well to call for reports from these officers, while they are camping and touring these regions, and not from their respective headquarters. For more than a week neither the DM nor the Commissioner has taken the trouble of personally visiting either Munsyari or any of the affected villages in the high Himalaya. There is every case to abolish such redundant posts like Commissioner Kumaon, if worthier occupying such posts have no time to personally visit the remotest corners of their change, while there is hardly any work for them in a small state like Uttarakhand. This writer need not been educated about their ‘perceived preoccupations’ as he has himself held the post of Chief secretary of the same state for two years and is currently living in Munsyari itself, watching the nauseating performance of these officials.       

Shortages All round

As local efforts have intensified first to get hold of the real ground situation, as the Nodal Officer and the SDM, will not be moving themselves and will remain satisfied with what the ITBP Commandant informs them, or what their fawning local correspondents would brief them, we are informed of a severe shortage of local labourers or individuals fit enough to undertake such a risky trip to these remote villages. Relief works get stuck up for many reasons, and as mentioned these are all man-made. Man made, because if the main road is not worth travel, it is the BRO which has not discharged their duties and presently have just two persons posted at the Milam end, as reported by the ITBP Commandant; maintenance neglected by the state PWD, as they have filled up posts of gangmen who retired, and presently they also have just two persons, at the Milam end, one of them not even in a position to walk ! It is again man made, as far as shortage of food grains is concerned, which was first directed to another grains-depot and when complained against covered up in connivance with local authorities. The SC / ST Commission has already taken a note of. The shortages of distribution at Bogdyar and Burfu, are both man made, as they should have been stocked for the entire rainy season, much ahead of the present situation.   

None of eight Satellite Phones are operational, except the one at Martoli, and it was the duty and responsibility of the BSNL to ensure that they remained operational, which has not been done, the Nodal Officer and the SDM, have also not bothered to enquire as to what is the reason. Interestingly, while there is no problem in supply of food grains to ITBP personnel stationed at the remotest village, the same set of conditions have not worked under the civil side of the arrangement. When asked, the ITBP contractor blandly says – “ When more than 80 % supplies get directed elsewhere from the originating point itself, how can one have a satisfactory arrangement at the remote end !”. What is this if not a callous state of supervision for which direct responsibility should be directed at the district administration itself.  All these shortcomings, now when they collectively stare at you and when you could have a chance to experience them only during such situations, Commissioner and DM shift their responsibility by sending a Nodal Officer, who sits pretty at the tehsil head quarters, doing nothing, except attending to mobile calls ! Suddenly when all such man created problems require immediate attention, the first shortage that comes up relates to able bodied persons, who would be in a position to undertake trips on such difficult terrain, as there is already a great shortage of local man-power, most of them having gone up themselves, as a routine ! Those who come from outside, obviously are not aware that these regions have small populations, and all the abled bodied persons would be in the upper villages, or deployed by those who pay them regularly, say like the ITBP here. This creates great problem for relief workers who wish to be of some help, as the portage has already been pre-empted.

Shortages, mostly of essential commodities, have already started appearing- LPG gas cylinders, petrol and diesel at the only filling station, which has not had a track record either of quality –petrol /diesel or timely supply ever since it has been installed at Munsyari, have started coming in. The omly road connection with the outside world is through the 71 km long, Thal-Munsyari road, which even in normal times gives shivers to the first timers, ensures that one remains more cut off than connected. Electricity supply has already been stymied thanks to the great Askot Pashu Vihar, which has taken more than 20 years already to be finally notified, and frequent road-blocks, old tree felling over the narrowest road imaginable, and off course rolling down of huge boulders and rocks, near the entrance at Girgaon and Birthi-fall. Each big boulder carries a history of its own and local identify a boulder lying by the road side by the year it fell from 300 meters above and blocked the passage for several days ! Nature combines in full strength i.e. the over flowing-rivers, falling trees and boulders, incessant rains and crackling thunderstorms in this season ably assisted by indolent officials glued to their mobile and TV sets, watching historic events like the last Challenge Cup in distant England, to make the already full cup of woes over flow with human miseries, through laming, deaths and being blown over by strong winds deep into the fast currents of Gori and Kali rivers. Its indeed a picture perfect setting, only the dead and lamed do not form a part of it, for our bureaucrats and politicians.

Role of the Diaspora

Emails and sms-s have started pouring in, mobile of course from all over and the Shauka.com which has more than 200 plus members note down inanities. However, there are exceptions like Bachendri Pal, the first woman Everester of India, with her heart at the right place, who is meeting Piyoosh Rautela, the DMMC in charge whom I have sounded about her visit. Bachendri, and the likes of her, few but dedicated, exemplify what the disapora ought to be doing, on their own, always under such trying conditions. She has come with the assistance of the Tata Foundation, where she works in Ranchi, and she is always there, every year, calamity or no calamity. Full marks to RungMung, the neighbouring internet site which has activated the entire diaspora of Darma-Byanse-Choudanse as they are contributing liberally, contributing because they have full knowledge what the local administration can be expected to do in the remote villages, which are farthest away from Kedarnath-Ukhimath, also Dehradun Secretariat and still father from Pithoragarh district headquarters, as well as Munsyari and Dharchula tehsil headquarters, with their mobile–wielding Nodal Officers and SDMs, feeding all kinds of inanities to their immediate superiors, sitting at their headquarters.

One is not aware of the various diasporas of affected regions, cut off as I am at this place, one at New Delhi is exclusively made of only First Class officers from Uttarakhand ( lately relaxed a bit ), which I hope is trying to do whatever they can. We do hear of even Uttarakhand Associations, in North America and some such distant locations, and hope that they are using their pens to write down checks for relief, rather than exchanging accumulated knowledge about Kedarnath, earthquake of 1803 in Garhwal, what it did to the Kedarnath temple and roads and so on. This is not the time to discuss Captain Raper and Lt Webb who covered the very same valley in 1808 and described how Bhagirathi and Alaknanda swelled during the very same months, at their junction at Dev Prayag, such discussion is neither going to wake of our slumbering bureaucracy or improve the sensitivities of our disapora for coming forward, as the Uttarakhand Government will attend to the locals only after the last of the tourist from outside has been accounted for ! Uttarakhand diaspora has to prevail upon the Bahuguna Government and Manmohan Singh Government that the tragedy that has hit Uttarakhand is far bigger than Kedarnath-Ukhimath, or add the Badrinath-glen, that their first responsibility to ginger up the administration in remote locations all over Uttarakhand, that there is no need for aerial review by any of the Central or State VIPs, this small state has had enough of it already and above everything else this is no time of scoring politically over each other. Year 2014 will be a good certificate that the local people will give to each of them for their performance during Himalayan Tsunamis like this.

In Munsyari we also mourned the unfortunate deaths of all those who got caught up on the fateful night of the 16 June 2013, around and in the Mandakini valley, but we had to resume our efforts immediately as such unreported events keep occurring in these parts so frequently that the local administration has got totally immuned to its ill effects on the populations, and the newspapers are covered by only facts of the tragic statistics only and not the non-performance of local administration, the biggest disaster for these parts.    

R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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