It’s a ‘Dammed’ affair: Energy, Politics and Development in Uttaranchal

In the past couple of weeks we have seen man made environmental disasters in two contrasting ecosystems in the Himalayan north of India and in the Urban & Ecological Jungles of Southern Malaysia and Singapore. The Singapore Haze Story is a man made healthcare scare and has had severe economic implications for the City State with a billion dollar hit according to Barclays. The Indonesians will perennially clear the forests for cropping and the rest of the region will to suffer unless a regional resource commons governance initiative propelled by hard cash is devised. The meritocratic and innovative Singaporean government lead by the PAP kept the population abreast of the air haze news by the minute through social media and a National Environmental Agency Smart Phone App which is commendable and a benchmark for disaster governance. The Government could not have done any more as it is a trans-boundary issue.  Quite a contrast to the abysmal standards of disaster governance at Uttarakhand vis-a-vis Singaporean standards of excellence.

The Tragedy was triggered by a cloud burst and torrential downpours in the Himalayan Uttarakhand State, which is a hydel power hotbed with numerous dams. These dams have amplified the ecological sensitivities which have contributed to the cataclysmic landslides, killing hundreds making the Uttarakhand tragedy a humbling experience for the priests of aggressive developmental drive paradigm. In a rush to feed an energy hungry northern grid, Uttarakhand led by callus leaders who ‘damned’ literally every available water stream dug their own grave, with the temple towns collapsing like a flimsy pack of cards. With job hungry Uttarachalis whose main occupation has traditionally aligned with armed forces, looking for work outside the government, the so called renewable energy industry came to the rescue. The same armed forces, which are India’s only Disaster Management competent agency, are now saving the day, in a nation which is woefully inept at saving ones backside. The Congress which is ruling the state with a wafer thin majority is all set to face the electoral music in 2014, with the state having ten seats for the Lok Sabha.  The important point being, that the congress is competitive in this state where in other places it is losing its deposit.

Environmental Issues are Force Multipliers. They might not win anyone one an election; but it will aggregate a small crisis to a regional disaster, which will surely make one lose a poll. Will the consultants/bureaucrats who did the environmental clearances for the dams be held accountable for this disaster? When will the corporate-political cartel take environmental compliance seriously?

Uttarakhand is an inflection point in the developmental & environmental governance narrative in this nation. It is time that we do not dust these lessons in to garbage bin of history and wait for another one to happen.

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