Amid other developments, regulations going for a toss in Himalayan region

The current fortnight saw animated debates in the media in the aftermath of the Supreme Court upholding the Centre’s 2019 decision to abrogate Article 370 that gave a special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The Apex court also upheld the decision to bifurcate the state into the union territories of J&K and Ladakh while observing that Article 370 was a temporary provision and the President was empowered to revoke.  The court has directed the government to hold Assembly elections by September 30 next year.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the verdict as a ‘resounding declaration of hope, progress and unity’, but for the INDIA bloc, which came into existence about five months back, the challenges have become two-fold. The first challenge is to formulate its response, as many leaders believe popular sentiment has always been in favour of the abrogation of Article 370. The second challenge is to absorb the shock that came in the form of the debacle in the Assembly poll ahead of Lok Sabha elections that are just around the corner. The results have not only come as a setback for the Congress but for the 28-party INDIA bloc and in the grouping which has called a meeting on December 19 to check fissures that have become imminent.  

In a scenario when the focus of the media was only on politics,  Tehelka sent its special investigation team to unearth if lessons have been learnt from the Silkyara tunnel cave incident in Uttarkashi and ecological concerns redressed? Ironically, Tehelka SIT found that despite back-from-the-brink Uttarkashi tunnel rescue act resulting in rescue of all the 41 trapped workers, it’s life as usual in an eco-fragile region as building regulations go for a toss with corrupt officials conniving with violators. Whether it’s the cracks appearing in houses in Joshimath and Nainital, the 2013 tragedy in Kedarnath, or the recent incident of the Silkyara tunnel collapse, all these events are a grave reminder that red-flag the perils of construction in ecologically sensitive areas of the Himalayas.

Tehelka cover story ‘Cocking a snook at Silkyara’ by SIT records on camera touts who offer to get our fictional building proposals in Uttarakhand approved, in violation of building by-laws, contingent upon the bribe we pay. The SIT had earlier done stories – ‘That sinking feeling’ and ‘Violations for Cash: Joshimath Crisis and After’ to highlight how agents and some officials were conniving to violate building by-laws with impunity.  This shows that instead of serving as a wake-up call, the recent incidents have failed to bring on board any fool proof roadmap to plug the loopholes to enforce environmental norms.  The ongoing activities of touts are nothing but a recipe for an imminent disaster.  The purpose of Tehelka effort would be fulfilled only if amid the nationwide euphoria over meticulously planned tunnel rescue operation, questions are raised if lessons have been learnt from the Silkyara ordeal and remedial measures initiated?