–By Team RPM-MF–
The article posted a week ago, focused on the failing risk perception of the people of the region – various factors were put forth therein as inducing these people to knowingly take risks.
But then, these people routinely struggle to make the ends meet, and are for that matter left with few options to choose from.
What however happened around Dehradun on the Janmashtami night after prolonged heavy rainfall in the upper catchment areas, mostly involved people who had built resorts, hotels, and recreational centers dangerously close to the Song river and its tributaries, and in the process encroached the riverbed.
There were really no attached compulsions for these people to undertake construction out there, and all these people were simply looking for commercial opportunities around the riverfront and multiplying their investment in a short period of time.
By consciously encroaching on the riverbed and ignoring due diligence before making the investment, these people jeopardized the lives of a number of people and exposed them to misery, hardship, and agony.
Apart from the ones losing their lives in this tragic incidence, all those stranded at various places have been rescued by now. Full restoration of vehicular connectivity is no doubt going to take time, but life is sure to crawl back to normalcy with the passage of time.
But then, the state cannot really be satisfied with relief and rescue alone – it has to initiate measures that minimize the possibility of such incidences in the future, and the message needs to be loud and clear to reassure not only tourists but also investors, and regain their confidence.
The state is the legal owner of the stream and riverbed and there already do exist dictums restricting anthropogenic activities in the proximity of these. All constructions in the river bed are thus encroachments with no legal locus standi. These unauthorized structures at the same time create a number of geo-environmental problems besides exposing people to risk.
It is therefore required to undertake appropriate measures to dismantle and demolish all these structures, and strictly disallow any further encroachment on the riverside. Together with this, most active landslide zones are known to the authorities. Anthropogenic activities in the proximity of these should also be disallowed.
In order to avoid ambiguity of any kind, it is required that the area falling in the restricted zone be clearly marked on the ground, once and forever.
No commercial establishment, small or big, should be allowed to operate unless it adheres to public safety norms that are required to be put in place immediately, and on an urgent basis. These norms need to cater to various natural and man-made hazards, and should necessarily be framed in consultation with various stakeholders, including the business operators.
Howsoever well intended and drafted, the proposed public safety norms would end up doing no better than our building bye-laws unless the state puts in place a stringent compliance mechanism with built-in, time bound, and prompt grievances redressal provision, particularly addressing concerns of the general public and business operators.
The state could at the same time consider putting in place an independent safety audit and certification mechanism for commercial establishments wherein these be certified with star safety rating based on the compliances adhered to by these.
Given the kind of competition in the market, having a higher safety rating could be an incentive for the commercial establishment to adhere to the safety norms. This would in turn help them redesign their marketing and branding strategy so as to target the premium customer segment that accords due priority to safety and is willing to pay for the same.
This would at the same time help the customers to decide whether or not they are getting value for their money.
Besides the hospitality sector, this could be made applicable to trekking and tour operators as also for hospitals, schools, malls, marriage halls, and multiplexes.
As a state policy, the owner or management of the commercial establishments jeopardizing the safety of the public, by ignorance or knowingly bypassing the safety norms be made liable for stringent punitive action.
Similar proceedings are instituted against the officials who in collusion with the owner or management of the commercial establishments let these operate in violation of the established norms.
Most commercial establishments are funded in one way or the other by various financial establishments. The state needs to ensure that the financial institutions desist from financing unsafe commercial establishments.
The state has a number of schemes of its own to promote tourism and adherence to safety measures be made mandatory for taking benefit of these.
The state has over and again undertaken vulnerability and risk assessments of the region particularly to earthquake, flood, flash flood, landslide, and industrial hazards. It is high time that all these reports be put in the public domain and publicized through various modes.
This would deter the financial institutions from investing in high-risk areas while the insurance sector would be demotivated to insure high-risk assets.
This in turn would reduce the demand of land and other assets in high-risk areas and people, in general, would be incentivized to invest their hard-earned money in safe locations.
It is at the same time suggested that previous disaster instances be highlighted, particularly in the affected area, through various modes. This would resist fading affect bias and keep the memories of the previous disaster fresh so as to desist people from repeating the mistakes that resulted in that disaster.
Differential insurance premiums and ease of loan processing in safe areas by financial institutions would be an incentive for masses as also investors to restrict their investment to identified safe zones.
Unobstructed river view
An unobstructed view of the river and stream is to add to the aesthetic value of places in the hills and this at the same time would disallow riverfront construction.
The appropriate legal instruments could thus be devised for restricting structures that obstruct river or stream view.
The state cannot let the commercial interests of a few persons either jeopardize or compromise the safety and security of a large number of innocent people. So, besides making all beneficiary groups including the business establishments aware of the consequences of their actions and incentivizing them all to subscribe to prescribed safety standards, it is suggested that the state should put in place a dedicated, specialized, and independent organization to monitor, regulate, audit and certify safety-related compliance by all commercial establishments.
The cost of operating this audit and certification establishment can easily be met out of inspection and certification fees to be charged from the commercial establishments and they would be more than happy to pay that.
This establishment has however to be organized around cardinal principles of impartiality, professionalism, and excellence so as to have marketable creditability.
( To spread awareness among people this article is borrowed from Risk Prevention Mitigation and Management Forum with thanks and gratitude.)