After flash floods and landslides killed at least 800 people in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand last month, disaster management authorities are planning to halt rescue operations, which have been ongoing for two weeks.
Here’s a roundup of views in the Indian media:
Headlined “Punish Those Guilty of Neglect,” an editorial in The Sunday Guardian said disaster in Uttarakhand “ought to have been anticipated.” The piece took a tough stance against disaster management officials, arguing that the Indian Space Research Organization failed to alert local authorities about satellite warnings received a day prior to the cloudburst, which triggered the floods on June 15.
“At a minimum, several hundred lives could have been saved,” it said. “Only by ensuring that they are punished will it be more likely that in future, officials will not yawn at their desks but actually step out in the field to warn those in the path of a storm,” it added.
An editorial in The Asian Age echoed this view. In a piece titled “Why can’t we get ready in time,” the newspaper criticized India’s Meteorological Department, blaming weather officials for doing little to forecast the disaster. “The MeT office, with its weather satellites and multiple equipment upgrades, hasn’t been able to demonstrate any measurable improvement in its predictions over the years,” it said. This “is symbolic of our shoddy preparedness to tackle what is an annual phenomenon.”
The editorial also raised concerns about India’s infrastructure. “Each year rains have the same catastrophic effect on many urban centers mainly because our civic infrastructure is incapable of handling the first downpour, let alone what follows,” it said. “We should at least try and be prepared each year by rechecking urban water draining infrastructure lest we suffer due to the monsoon that is in fact our savior,” it added.
In a column in The Hindu, the newspaper’s deputy editor Gargi Parsai highlighted how, in a bid to cash in on pilgrimage tourism in Uttarakhand, the ecosystem of the Himalayas – home to several religious shrines – has been exploited. Excessive and poor quality private construction, she argued, had prompted mass devastation over the past few weeks.
“Commerce and the quest for short-term gains have prompted successive governments in Uttarakhand to allow new hotel clusters, resorts and commercial complexes to come up on river boundaries,” Ms. Parsai wrote. “Roads have been built haphazardly by blasting through the vulnerable Himalayas, destabilizing them and loosening up boulders, soil and plantations,” she added.
She said builders and contractors were “allowed to dump vast mounds of debris into the rivers that killed pilgrims as gushing floodwaters brought up the detritus and boulders.”
“Nature’s fury reinforced the fact that preserving the ecosystem and the harmonious balance with human beings cannot be compromised,” Ms. Parsai added.
An editorial in The Hindustan Times headlined “An Ostrich Mentality” lashed out at Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna for failing to take responsibility for unauthorized and poor quality construction along the Himalayan belt.
“Surely there is someone in the CM’s team to explain to him that there is a strong link between unplanned development in an area, which is prone to erosion, landslides, seismic activity and rainstorms, and the scale of destruction. This is not rocket science and living in denial will not do the CM or his administration any good,” the editorial said.
It also criticized the state administration for failing to act when floods struck. “His administration could only set up helplines at Dehradun when the Indian Army and the National Disaster Relief Force personnel started operations,” it said, adding that the chief minister himself was unreachable when floods and landslides struck.
“Mr. Bahuguna should understand that this is not the time to be so adamant… He must review his government’s development policy,” the piece concluded.
Aroon Purie, the editor-in-chief of weekly magazine India Today, slammed disaster management authorities, calling their response “sluggish.” An editors’ column ahead of the magazine’s cover story on floods said the National Disaster Management Authority, a body set up in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, had “failed miserably in its first major challenge.”
“Rescue efforts only began in earnest once the Army and Air Force stepped in,” Mr. Purie wrote, praising the defense forces for working in tough conditions.
He was also critical of regional politicians, who he said played up the disaster to secure votes. “That politicians across party lines have scrambled, even scuffled, to score points for the rescue efforts is a discredit to the political class.”
“This is a time when the mettle of a nation is tested. We have fallen woefully short,” Mr. Purie concluded.
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