Devastating floods in Uttarakhand as well as Himachal Pradesh, following heavy rains in northern India since June 13, have already claimed thousands of lives and left behind a terrible trail of destruction. Men, women and children, their homes and belongings, whole villages, roads and bridges have simply been washed away by the raging flood waters. Thousands are believed to be lying buried under the debris of fallen buildings and structures. Many of those who managed to somehow escape the flood waters are reported to have died due to starvation and dehydration. Many tens of thousands are reported to be still stranded without any food or drinking water. Most of the mountain roads have been washed away, so that rescue by helicopters is the only course left. Several thousands are yet untraced. Many of those who managed to walk their way to safety through long distances in the forests have reported finding thousands of dead bodies embedded in the rivers and buried in the sand. The situation is so tragic that even government officials have stopped trying to declare figures of the number killed, stranded and missing.
The calamity in Uttarakhand and other places in northern India is yet another glaring example of the kind of terrible tragedies that befall our people as a consequence of the existing capitalist system. Under this system, the insatiable greed of the capitalists for maximum profits at all cost is the driving force. Whichever may be the government in power, all the institutions of the state and the entire state machinery is geared to satisfy this greed of the capitalists, cynically disregarding the well-being and interests of the masses of people.
One of the main factors being attributed to the tragedy in Uttarakhand is the construction of hydel projects, dams, roads, hotels, etc. on an unprecedented scale in the past decade. It is reported that nearly 70 hydel projects have been set up by various capitalist houses in the basins of the three major rivers -- Alaknanda, Mandakini and Bhagirathi. These hydel projects require constant blasting of the hills to build dams and tunnels, loosening the rock structure, which starts rolling down once the top soil is washed away by rain. The rocks and mud are carried away by the rivers at a high speed, adding to the devastating effect. To build the hydel projects, the natural flow of the rivers has been diverted for more than half the length of the major rivers in the region. The forest cover has been destroyed as a result of the construction of these hydel projects, reducing the ability of the soil to retain water. Bumper to bumper dams have been built, compounding the effect of all this. This has been allowed inspite of being in flagrant violation of the government’s own stated norms for environmental clearance required for any such construction.
Rampant mining of rivers by private companies has been allowed by the government, resulting in drastic changes in the course of the rivers. Private tourism companies have been reaping fabulous profits by constructing hotels indiscriminately on the river banks. In the last 13 years alone, since the state of Uttarakhand was created, hundreds of kilometers of new roads have been built, in a most haphazard and unscientific manner. The extent to and ease with which these roads have been washed away in the recent floods are ample testimony to how they would have been made.
Reports indicate that while there were clear indications that the monsoon would hit Uttarakhand early - as it did other parts of the country - no early warning efforts were launched to minimise the effects of the impending killer torrent. The state authorities systematically refused to implement important recommendations made by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and other individual experts, for prevention and mitigation of floods. Some of these recommendations include linking the disaster prone areas with an alarm system and proper scientific construction of roads, linking remote parts of the state to the main town centers. But none of these were taken seriously by the government. In the present tragedy, it has been reported that the absence of all-weather green roads and the washing away of the poorly built roads has been a major factor hindering rescue operations.
The state government and the central government responded to the calamity in Uttarakhand after almost 48 hours had elapsed since the first round of flash floods. Personnel of the Armed Forces, ITBP, Border Roads Organisation, NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) as well as citizen volunteers who have been striving heroically, against all odds, to rescue the victims, have complained of ‘apathy of the bureaucracy’ in sanctioning helicopters and other essential equipment for the rescue operations. Even now, the number of helicopters being used to airlift victims to safer places is reported to be woefully inadequate. Medical aid and assistance for those wounded is almost missing. Food and water dropped from the air for those stranded in the remote areas has also been in very short supply. There has been pressure on the rescue personnel to give priority to VIPs, Ministers and other rich and influential persons, disregarding the needs of the poor and ordinary victims.
The state agencies have already started announcing how the repair and reconstruction work in Uttarakhand will cost a huge amount of money and have given an initial estimate of Rs. 250 crore. This is exactly what follows every calamity that affects the masses of people. The state agencies as well as various private capitalist agencies will now reap handsome profits out of the repair and reconstruction work, using shoddy material and design, so that once more such a disaster can strike and cause untold misery to many thousands of people.
The tragedy in Uttarakhand once again reinforces the need to put an end to the capitalist system based on greed for maximum private profits. It reinforces the need for the working class, in alliance with the peasantry and other toiling masses, to take political power in its hands and build a new system, the socialist system, where the fulfillment of the needs of the working masses will be the driving force, instead of private capitalist profit.