Auli and suicide
As the first fortnight of 2018 nears completion it seems as if much has already happened this year in Uttarakhand. First, the International Ski Federation (FIS) races to be held at Auli in January had to be postponed to February due to lack of adequate natural snow and warmer temperatures in the higher altitudes. However, the significance of this development was sidelined by the suicide of transporter Prakash Pandey who consumed a pesticide in a Janata Darbar programme chaired by a Cabinet Minister.
Pandey blamed demonetisation, Goods and Services Tax (GST) and the Government system for business loss which made him commit suicide. Much is being said about the suicide and related factors by the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party and the media so I will avoid elaborating what has already been said. The suicide is now the subject of a magisterial inquiry ordered by the Chief Minister but some questions do arise in the mind. Isn’t it sensible to have a doctor present at events like the Janata Darbar where even the aged suffering from anxiety and other issues await their chance to convey their problems to public representatives? Just like an airplane pilot wearing a parachute isn’t hoping for a crash, a doctor in such events would not be hoping for someone to suffer from sudden health issues or take an extreme step. But in case of someone experiencing health issues like a cardiac episode, a panic attack or even attempting suicide, a doctor nearby could mean the difference between life and death.
To a casual observer the FIS games at Auli being postponed and the suicide by Pandey may seem unrelated but the two are connected by the thread of the environment and our activities which depend on the very environment they affect negatively. The Government Press release regarding the postponement of FIS races quoted an office bearer of the winter games federation opining that inadequate natural snow and warmer temperatures at Auli could be attributed to factors like global warming. Around the same time came the news of an official report being tabled in the national Capital which revealed that the once clean and green Dehradun was experiencing alarming levels of air pollution- greater even than some larger cities of India.
Coming back to Pandey’s suicide, the Congress leaders have since then been expressing concern about the lower middle class. They state that after creation of Uttarakhand, a considerable number of people especially from the lower middle class took bank loans to start up their businesses. In some towns, many bought trucks and other vehicles to transport riverbed materials mined from riverbeds across the State. It was stated that such people from the lower-middle class who had taken loans to start businesses are now vulnerable like Pandey. However, if one is really concerned about public welfare, the sustainability of the type of business also needs to be considered. In a State where the environment is literally the mainstay of all major sources of revenue and employment generation, any business which in some cases may also be marked by dodgy activities including those that cause serious environmental damage and at times even entail illegal activities, cannot really be considered a sustainable business for all. One also needs to differentiate between short-term profitability and long term sustainability if one is serious about business and development. I doubt whether this has really been thought of every time I hear a Minister or a politician claim that starting a couple of five-star hotels in places like Gairsain will usher in a new age of development in the mountains. They may not have experienced getting stuck in a jam of tourist vehicles on a mountain road which till some years ago was a more enjoyable and convenient route to travel on. So, on the one hand you have businesses being encouraged to develop in an unsustainable manner and on the other had you have such and other activities indiscriminately exploiting natural resources and damaging the environment. Public transport vehicles in Dehradun are a prime example of such a business model- outdated, toxic spewing vehicles being operated in an unsafe and unprofessional manner only to add to the rising traffic congestion and environmental degeneration. Such problems cannot be solved only by measures like road widening. Effective measures needed to solve such problems are rarely popular with all socio-economic sections of society, at least in the initial phase. Popularity is not always the best measure of efficacy or welfare because one can also come across places where substance abuse or crimes like dowry may appear to be popular trends. If the signs were missed earlier, the root causes of postponement of the Auli event and Pandey’s suicide should be addressed without further delay.
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