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'Survival chance of those trapped is bleak'

February 08, 2021 13:49 IST

IMAGE: Rescue operations underway near the Tapovan Tunnel on Monday, after a glacier broke off in Joshimath on Sunday causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Photograph: Arun Sharma/PTI Photo
 

Former Congress MLA Rajendra Singh, who represented Badrinath (Chamoli) in the Uttarakhand assembly from 2012 to 2017, tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com that all the cogs of the state administration are coordinating smoothly with rescue teams from the Indian Army, the Indo Tibetan Border Police and the National Disaster Response Force, and there are chances of getting an update about those trapped in the main tunnel at Tapovan by the end of the day.

"I hope our rulers realise that more destruction is awaiting human lives, property and environment if we don't put an end to haphazard, undemocratic development in this region. Protection of ecology in this zone should be the topmost priority of our rulers now," says Singh, speaking from the rescue site at Tapovan on Monday morning.

How do you look at Sunday's disaster?

The way we are destroying environmental balance such disasters are bound to happen.

The number of dams that we have been constructing in this fragile ecological buffer zone, the amount of deforestation that we have undertaken to widen roads and for other development projects, the bursting of the glacier is the direct result of all this mischief we have been playing in the name of development.

There is no other reason why Uttarakhand is facing such disasters every few years.

One can give as many other reasons as one wants to, but the real reasons are now becoming more and more evident for what's happening in the state.

What kind of destruction has this avalanche wrought and what rescue measures are being undertaken right now by the state administration?

It will take several days before we actually get an estimate of loss to environment, lives and property.

The death toll will only increase as rescue operations gather speed, but till now 10-12 dead bodies have been recovered and identified.

The other major tunnel where 30-35 people are expected to have been trapped is posing challenges because of the debris and mud.

The 100-metre stretch from the opening of this tunnel is completely flooded with debris; the oxygen supply (through the pipes) too had gotten over and the chances of any survivors inside this tunnel are very bleak.

Nobody has been able to talk to the people trapped inside.

People here are saying that those trapped could be found around 200-250 metres inside this tunnel.

The Indian Army and the ITBP have taken full control of rescue operations and apart from the 12 people rescued yesterday, 3-4 more people have been removed from under the debris at Tapovan (where the NTPC power project is located).

Given the speed with which all the rescue teams are working I think by the end of the day today we will get some update about those trapped and surviving in the second main tunnel.

The army and the ITBP are doing a superb job and all the top functionaries of the state administration have been camping at the rescue site since the tragedy unfolded yesterday morning.

District Collector Swati Bhadauria, SP Yashwant Singh Chauhan, DGP Ashok Kumar, even Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat rushed to the site just an hour after the tragedy happened (on Sunday, February 7).

The entire state administration along with the special rescue teams from the army, ITBP, NDRF and SDRF (State Disastere Response Force) are coordinating very well to save as many lives as can be saved.

Now, due to collapse of several bridges because of the flood, 14 permanent villages along the path of this avalanche have been completely disconnected.

As per my information ration and other emergency supplies have been airlifted to these villages; those rescued and injured in these villages are also being airlifted and taken to hospitals.

Helicopter sorties are being undertaken to these villages since early morning today.

Who do you hold responsible for this environmental destruction in Uttarakhand?

While no one should hold one person accountable for the devastation in the state one can easily say that several haphazard developmental schemes are responsible for the destruction we are witnessing today in this beautiful state.

The unaccountable development planning that led to destruction of forests, mountains, soil erosion are responsible for this state of affairs.

The way we have been planning and constructing dams in this valley could have only resulted into what we are seeing today. Construction of these dams and hydel power projects have definitely caused this avoidable destruction.

Those environmentalists fighting to save the ecological degradation in this zone had protested vehemently against the construction of these dams across the Alakhnanda and Mandakini rivers. but then the higher authorities have always given clearances to such projects without sincerely studying about their impact on the environment (Environmental Impact Assessment) and habitats in this fragile zone.

Everybody knows how these clearances are acquired and how these projects get approval. Nothing is hidden from anybody about how we are destroying our own selves in the name of development.

I hope our rulers realise that more destruction is awaiting human lives, property and environment if we don't put an end to haphazard, undemocratic development in this region.

Protection of the ecology in this zone should be the topmost priority of our rulers now.

How are you trying to help the people suffering due to this avalanche?

I have been conveying people's -- those who are reaching out to me -- complaints and needs to the administration.

Several injured people from Reni (the home to the famous Chipko movement), where the Rishiganga project is located, have been calling me and I am forwarding their complaints to the district collector and other senior officers of the administration.

We are noting down the loss of cattle, horses, and other animals being reported to us and sending the list to the administration. But it will take several days to know the actual extent of loss.

PRASANNA D ZORE