Tehri is tucked away in the middle reaches of the Garhwal Himalayas. I was there for three days this past December. The hills called out to me like a prayer, but unlike other times, I had a friend with me, and we devoted ourselves to making merry.
However, it was hard not to see the dark fumes chugging out of machinery dotting the yet-to-be laid out roads and the dust clouding the views.
The Garhwal hills are dry, the plants thirsty for the little water they get from snowfall, rather than rains. In the middle of winter, the sun shines brightly, giving no heat, and the yellowed leaves are covered with dust. As you go up, the dust is defeated by the snow, a welcome cover for something seriously wrong about how things have come to be. Even at that altitude you can feel the pungent air hitting your nostrils, something I did not expect in the hills.
There were devastating floods in the state in 2013 that claimed more than 20000 lives. And yesterday there was a glacier burst, resulting in flash floods that has swept away more than 150 people and only 25 have been found so far, dead.
It is not enough to simply admire the beauty of the Himalayas. Now more than ever we need to ask what are we doing wrong to cause a glacier to burst in winter, when temperatures are well below zero degrees.
We crave for roads and economic development. And that means more hills being stripped off of their forest cover, more roads blasted off hillsides to make way for fossil-fuel powered vehicles to vent black plumes of smoke into the skies. Now more than ever we need to open our eyes to the collateral damage that this kind of bull-headed approach to economic development brings. The damage is not in the body count only. It is the loss of quality in air, water, fauna, and greenery that keeps this fragile ecology in balance.
I’m sure there’s a smarter way of pursuing economic development. A way that doesn’t require a tragic glacier burst to get people to wake up. Unfortunately, while we pay lip service to solar powered energy and the ills of climate change, we find it easier to shut our eyes and noses to what’s happening in our backyard.
I hope more people will start talking about this. We need changes at a policy level to bring about changes on the ground, and our policies need to enforce the protection of the environment as a non-negotiable corollary to development activities. Without that, we will face many such tragedies, and we can’t forever get away by saying we don’t know why this happened.