The Himalayas and all of the mountains and hills alongside, have been designated as India’s ‘crown’. That is how Indians have always looked up at the high hills. Our saints, including Swami Vivekananda, travelled the ridges and the high paths on foot in search of Truth. The Himalayas have protected us from invaders throughout history; the Himalayas give us life-saving water; the Himalayas gave birth to our very spiritual existence.
Yet, these are the same sacred mountains we defile. Over millennia, we never learnt to conserve this precious possession of this subcontinent. Slowly, we have crowded the hill slopes with unsustainable and environment-destroying structures, destroying the delicate ecological balance through mega ‘development’ projects and today Joshimath shows us how we have killed ourselves in the process. It is not about a quaint and religious hill station developing cracks and living in the fear of becoming completely extinct, crumbling under the pressure of human greed. It is about how little we care about the very hills that gave birth to us, sustained us and taught us great religious texts.
The impending disaster in Joshimath shows how destructive human greed can be. That township will soon be history, but it is imperative now to take a lesson and think how the rest of the great Himalayas can be preserved. We built and built, on surfaces that were no outcrop rock formations, but were basically slate type soft, loose subsoil. We tampered with the aqueduct, we tried to concretise nature. Today we will lose all that, not just in Uttarakhand, but maybe also in Himachal Pradesh and other so-called luxury hill stations. Small-time disaster management skills will not do this time around. The politics of mega building will not work.
This is a doomed township. There is no turning back the hand of time; Joshimath is a basket case. It is done. What we need is to make sure we take quick steps to reduce the load on other hills. We need to realise that the tourism industry cannot take precedence over nature. We need to rethink the entire approach in a humane way. Only then may the other delicate areas of the Indian hills survive.