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Dehradun, July 26
Surendra Singh Pangtey is a former bureaucrat and social activist hailing from the remote Munsiyari region of Uttarakhand. He has been raking up core issues linked to the betterment of the people of the state at various forums. He was in the thick of the recent anti-corruption movement, spearheading the campaign in the state.

Talking to The Tribune, SS Pangtey expressed concern over unnecessary delays in the execution of works of reconstruction and rehabilitation post disaster. "My experience has been that while proper rehabilitation is never done, the re-construction process, too, is very slow. For the construction of even one damaged bridge, the process is long drawn due to the technicalities invloved. And in the case of Uttarakhand, it is generally seen that before the reconstruction and rehabilitation for a particular disaster even gets completed, another disaster hits the state, thus bringing a shift in the priorities of the government," he said.
He stressed on the constitution of a monitoring committee for reviewing the progress of re-construction works on a day-to-day basis. "This time too, once this disaster is over, the rehabilitation and reconstruction works will be taken up in a routine manner that may lead to delays. A monitoring committee is important to take the works of reconstruction and rehabilitation on priority," he said.
He underlines the need for completion of all major reconstruction works before the start of monsoons next year. "A lot of corruption takes place in the name of re-construction. Often contractors intentionally delay re-construction works and claim that what they had re-constructed has been swept away in the next monsoon, thus siphoning off funds," he alleged. "Once a fresh calamity occurs, verification of the actual utilisation of funds becomes virtually impossible. Such practices are repeated with impunity because accountability is never fixed. The CAG audit report of 2010 contains comments about impropriety in the expenditure of the funds received for disaster management for the period 2005-10 in Uttarakhand," he added. He stressed on the adoption of a zero tolerance policy in the state towards corruption linked to rehabilitation and reconstruction works.
"Thus, reconstruction works in the present disaster must be completed before the start of 2014 monsoons and even if some work is left, it should be immediately stopped as the rains start in the state. This will ensure that there is no scope of corruption in works of reconstruction," Pangtey suggested.
Calling for the strengthening of the disaster mitigation and management mechanism in Uttarakhand, Pangtey said the state was ill prepared for the Kedarnath disaster. It was only with the assistance of the Army and paramilitary forces that effective rescue and relief operations could be done. "The state of Uttarakhand did adopt the Disaster Management Act (DMA) in 2007 and declared the constitution of the State Disaster Management Authority under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister and a State Executive Committee under the chairmanship of the Chief Secretary. However, the repeated failures of the state machinery in managing the disasters year after year, indicate that the line of action envisaged in the DMA has never been followed," he pointed out. "Uttarakhand has suffered two major earthquakes -- in Uttarkashi and Chamoli --, a huge incident of landslide on the Varnavat Parvat and a cloudbust in Ashiganga valley in the recent past and the state now needs to pull up its socks and must exhibit will and determination towards taking adequate measures.
Referring to the rampant construction activity in the environmentally fragile higher Himalayas, Pangtey remembered his visit to Kedarnath in 1986. "I went to Kedarnath in 1986. There was very little construction then. But today, the temple is surrounded by constructions, which is revealed in pictures of the rain-ravaged Kedarnath," he said. "There should be some check on such constructions as they make an adverse impact on the region's sensitive topography," he said.
On the type of construction in hills, he said the traditional house building techniques were not practised any more. “The traditional house building techniques of the region developed over the ages establish the fact that the area had been affected by frequent tremors in the past. But today, the wisdom of our forefathers is not practised and even basic prevention measures in constructions in hills are seldom adhered to," he said.
He also favoured a check on the picnicking tendencies at the places of religious significance in the Himalayas. "Pilgrimages are a matter of faith and the spirit of pilgrimage must be maintained at all costs, particularly when it involves environmentally fragile places. Mass tourism needs to be regulated," Pangtey said.
Maintaining a distance from the anti-hydro project stance of environmentalists, Pangtey argues that one should not oppose technically correct hydro projects. He asserted that as per some experts, the Tehri dam helped save floods downstream townships like Deoprayag and Rishikesh. He said that only those under construction projects that were not technically sound were destroyed in the floods.
Referring to frequent cloudbursts in hills, Pangtey disclosed that in recent years, the frequency of cloudbursts along with their intensity had risen in the Himalayan region.
“On the other hand, such incidents are not reported from the plains of north India. The remedy thus lies in the plains whereas only hills are blamed by the elite intelligentsia of the Indian society for the problem," he said. “Inadequate forest coverage and its uneven distribution within the country are the real problems. Till date, no environment activist has raised the voice supporting greater focus on afforestation in the plains,” he said.
WHAT TO DO
  • Check unnecessary delays in the work of reconstruction and rehabilitation post-disaster. A monitoring committee must be set up to review daily progress
  • Maintain the spirit of pilgrimage. Places of pilgrimage in hills should not be places of picnics
  • Have zero tolerance for corruption in works of reconstruction and rehabilitation
  • Stop rampant construction in fragile Himalayas
A lot of corruption takes place in the name of 
re-construction. Often contractors intentionally delay re-construction works and claim that what they had re-constructed had been swept away in the monsoons, thus siphoning off funds. Once a calamity occurs, verification of the actual utilisation of funds becomes virtually impossible. The CAG audit report of 2010 contains comments about impropriety in the expenditure of funds received for disaster management for the period 2005-10 in Uttarakhand. There should be zero tolerance towards corruption linked to rehabilitation and reconstruction works.
— SS Pangtey, former bureaucrat and social activist


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