Uttrakhand's economy depends on tourism and hydroelectricity. For both these, its rivers are  very important. The recent nature's fury has brought out the stark reality that the rivers need to be managed in an environment friendly manner. Left to itself nature always strikes a harmonious balance which does not cause harm to its surroundings. It is only when man tries to optimise the commercial returns from nature that nature strikes back with unimaginable fury. It is nature's way of reminding man that this further and no more and also take corrective actions. Unfortunately most of the time man does not take this message sincerely and redoubles efforts to tame nature.

It can be debated as to whether the decision to form a small state like Uttrakhand was an economically wise one. Because its geographical spread is more of vertical ridges rather than horizontal flats. The area has always been known for its religious tourism more of the yatra type rather than the high spending  freelance tourist. When it was part of UP, the revenues came from the larger state and tourism was complimentary to its earning .Now the small state has to fend for itself and also create economic opportunities for its citizens.

However the state has a vulnerable ecosphere which is periodically affected by floods, sudden cloudbursts and landslides. The waters that come from the skies need space on land for its proper evacuation. Till some years back it was well understood by the locals and things were under control. However now the nascent state has launched itself on a journey of becoming a tourist hub and an energy generating premier pradesh. Both are dependent on the many rivers that flow across Uttrakhand. The rivers are Ganga,Yamuna, Bhagirathi, Mandakini and Alaknanda. They not only green the state but are lifelines in other states as well. They are also associated with Hindu religion in an unbreakable bond. They irrigate the land associated with the mountain favourite god, the mighty Siva.

Reckless exploitation of the rivers by damming it at frequent intervals in its downward flow for generating electricity most of which would be used by outside states and fetch revenue for the state. It is reported that hundreds of hydroelectric power projects are being planned on its various rivers. It is said that in future the rivers will flow in tunnels rather than free flowing as at present. What an ugly sight it would be.

The mad rush of tourists under the garb of religious tourism meant the haphazard building of hotels etc. at every nook and corner, many a time near to or in river beds. The state was creating enhanced tourist infrastructure at a breakneck speed to exploit the increased flow of tourists. It meant revenue for the state and profit for the builders and hotel owners. Roads were being laid to make the tourists go in large numbers in SUv's and buses to higher and higher points in the state. Tourists even started staying overnight in Kedarnath where it is not at all advisable to do so.

The net result was obstructed rivers, unplanned and structurally weak buildings, fragile roads and negatively affected agriculture fields. The waste left behind by tourists added to the states woes. The already weak ecosphere was not able to bear this interference in an otherwise ecologically balanced landscape. The mountains became weak. The repeated concerns expressed by well meaning environmentalists and locals wrre disregared by state politicians and administrators . They were most of the time a party to the rapid exploitation by vested agencies. It is reported that the green lobbies were ridiculed and resisted by the state government both at local and planning commission levels.

Another neglected aspect is the preserving of existing forests and the absence of creating new forests. The forest trees bind the soil and also minimise cloudbursts. They also break the surge of floods. 

But when those who are in power are deaf who is going to listen? 

The only solace we can draw is that with thousands having perished perhaps their sacrifice will create an environment in an awakened  state government and the whole country regarding treating the Himalyan rivers with far more respect than at present. How much power can be drawn from a river without affecting the ecology needs to be worked out in a scientific manner. Buildings need to be built in a planned manner in only designated areas cleared from environmental point of view also. What is the use of haphazard exploitation of the Himalayas and then such high price has to be paid in terms of lives,property and ecological losses. The state economy has gone back by years. Who has gained ? Only the ruthless exploiters of nature.

It is therefore the duty of not only the environmentalists but all concerned Indians to raise their voice at this naked and brazen exploitation of the Himalayan resources of land, rivers and forests. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to preserve the ecologically sensitive Uttrakhand, the land of the gods. 

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