New Delhi, July 3 (IANS) Terming the devastation in Uttarakhand as a "partly man-made disaster", BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi has called for setting up a central authority to evolve a development model for the entire Himalayan region.
Joshi, 79, a former union minister who hails from Uttarakhand, said development in the Himalayan region cannot replicate that in any other part of the country.
"There should be a central authority including the chief ministers of the Himalayan states...to evolve a strategy about the total eco-system and to produce a development model taking all this (devastation in Uttarakhand) into account," Joshi told IANS in an interview.
Joshi heads the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that is looking into a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) performance audit of disaster preparedness in India. The report, presented in parliament during the budget session that concluded in May, found much wanting in Uttarakhand and other states.
Incessant rains and cloudburst during June 14-17 triggered landslides leading to thousands of deaths and hundreds still missing in Uttarakhand's Mandakini and Alaknanda valleys.
Joshi said there must be serious thought about development in the entire Himayalan range from east to west.
Referring to Kedarnath, Badrinath and other areas in Uttarakhand which suffered damage during the floods, Joshi said "pilgrimage centres cannot be tourist centres" and favoured restricting the number of visitors to such places.
He said there should be prior bookings for pilgrims visiting these areas, as happens in the Amarnath yatra, and visitors should be given proper guidance.
"There has to be a regulatory plan for this," Joshi said.
He said that the devastation in Uttarakhand was partly man-made as there were issues of development model and climate change.
"Contribution (to disaster) is not only from Uttarkhand. At the global level, there is indiscriminate degradation of natural environment and natural resources," he said and added that doses of carbon were being pumped into the atmosphere which was a factor causing climate change.
Joshi, a former president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a former union human resource development minister, said that a team of experts including engineers should review the projects undertaken in Uttarakhand over the years, including roads and dams, to assess their impact on the environment.
He stressed there was need to create employment opportunities in the hilly areas to prevent migration of people but it could not be a cabon copy of the model in the plains.
Joshi said that hilly areas were suited for units related to pollution-free sectors like information technology, photographic lenses, scientific instruments for laboratories, herbal medicine and aromatic perfumes.
Joshi, who is into his fifth term as a member of the Lok Sabha, said it was vital to create employment opportunities in hilly areas as migration of people in search of jobs can have ramifications for the country's defence.
Asked about the CAG report on disaster preparedness, Joshi said the PAC would seek replies from the government.
The CAG report states that frequency and intensity of various disasters had not been indentified in Uttarakhand.
It also says that no plan was prepared in the state for early warning of disasters and that the communication system was inadequate.
It said there were irregularities in the management of the state disaster response fund and non-investment of funds led to a potential loss of interest of Rs 9.96 crore during 2007-12.
(Prashant Sood can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)