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Uttarakhand Polls: Locals in Disaster Prone Areas Feel Let Down by Candidates

Since the BJP government didn't make any efforts for rehabilitation of people after the Joshimath floods last year, locals have geared up against the party in the upcoming Assembly elections in the region.
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It has been one year since the flash flood disaster struck Raini village in Joshimath tehsil of Chamoli district in Uttarakhand on February 7 last year. A strong sense of resentment is brewing among villagers against the ruling party. Now when the atmosphere is fully charged with canvassing by various local political leaders for the upcoming Assembly election, local people have decided to show their anguish on the voting day.

We have weathered tumultuous rains during the monsoon and chilled nights in harsh winter after the flood wreaked havoc in our area. Since then, our village has been sliding down, and many houses have become vulnerable with cracks, but the state government made no sincere efforts for our rehabilitation. So we have decided not to vote for the ruling party candidate in this election,” Sunil Rana, a local resident, said.

The situation of Jugju village is also alarming. District administration had to ask many in the village to take shelter in a school building when the landslides hit them hard during Monsoon. Sangram Singh, a native of Jugju village, told NewsClick, “We have been awaiting relocation for many decades. The topography of our area has become very fragile and, it is no longer safe for us to continue staying there. But none of BJP and Congress party, which ruled the state turn by turn, did anything concrete for our relocation, so we have decided not to vote for either of them.”

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Not long ago, local people from many villages of Joshimath staged a rally and submitted a copy of the memorandum to the district administration about caving in of the land at various places.

Keeping the sensitivity of the situation under consideration during the election time, the district administration too got a small survey done.

Atul Sati, a social activist, told NewsClick, “There are around 25-30 villages in Joshimath block which are facing the danger of destabilisation. People have reported about various damages to their houses because of this.”

He said that Joshimath is situated on a slanting slope on one side of the Alaknanda river, making it vulnerable. Other than this, the impact of flash flood disasters and big projects has accentuated its susceptibility multiple times.

We all know that the debris of the flash flood disaster had entered into the tunnel (up to 2 km) of Tapovan Vishnugad hydropower project in Joshimath. NTPC Ltd, which is running the project, has not cleared the trapped debris. Now the experts believe that the gases emitted inside the tunnel are exerting the pressure to find an outlet that is causing problems like cracks and landslides in the localities settled above this tunnel. This includes Joshimath town and popular tourist destination Auli.”

He said though the devastating impact of natural calamities has not emerged as an election issue in the state, few opposition leaders are promising relief and relocation in the disaster-prone villages.

As it happens, the opposition always try to cash in on the inadequacies of the ruling party. In this regard, the promises of opposition are only something like that, “ he said.

Indresh Maikhuri, candidate for the CPI(ML) contesting from the Karnprayag seat in Garhwal, said, “The government and bureaucratic set up tried to hush the genuine concern of public safety in the wake of environment fragility versus massive projects being built in areas like Chamoli. Those who raised such issues were termed anti-development.”

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Uttarakhand had been severely lacking in robust policies concerning preparedness to deal with natural calamities and relocation of people from disaster-prone areas.

Anil Prakash Joshi, Padma Bhushan awardee and the founder of Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation, told NewsClick, “It is so unfortunate that environmental issues like disasters, climate change, management of natural resources are not election issues in Uttarakhand. It is unfortunate for the entire Himalayas and its people. None of the political parties touched upon important environmental issues in their manifestos."

However, he said he would ensure the implementation of the proposal on Gross Economic Product (GEP).

Thanks to his persistent efforts, the state cabinet had passed the proposal of introducing GEP, the measure of ecosystem services. With this, Uttarakhand became the first state to do so in the country. Joshi said he was not concerned about the outcome of the election.

Regardless of the party which holds power in the state after the election, we are going to make sure that GEP is implemented in letter and spirit after the election,” he said.

The writer is a Chandigarh based freelance journalist who tweets @seema_env. The views are personal.

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