If so, we have to dig deep to set the things right.
Risk refers to expected or anticipated losses to a given element at risk from an identified hazard over a specific time period. It is important to note that the perception of risk is not uniform or universal, and acceptable level of risk tends to vary with socio-economic status of the population.
So based on background, experience, socio-economic status, job profile, training, exposure, circumstances and the like, every individual has her own definition of risk. So what might seem highly risky to me might be a simple routine task for her because of her training, and previous experience.
Risk-taking is a component of the decision-making process, particularly in situations that involve uncertainty, and in which the probability of each outcome – rewards and/or negative consequences – is already known.
Fully aware of the consequences humans have from the very beginning taking risk – sometimes for survival, but mostly for achieving higher goals. Risk-taking is thus natural to human nature, and had humans not taken risk there would have been no socio-economic development.
And we all still take risk numerous times on a daily basis; sometimes consciously but mostly subconsciously – avoiding helmet or seat belt, and overspending or overtaking while driving or simply crossing a busy road.
Humans are however quick learners, and development of communication skills or language helped them build a treasure trove of knowledge out of the experiences gained and knowledge accumulated over generations.
Humans thus learnt from failed attempts, and the accumulated knowledge of previous failures helps them avoid risk of various kind.
Risk-taking at its height
Fluctuations in stream or river discharge – particularly high discharge accompanying heavy or incessant rains in the catchment, and stream or river reclaiming its floodplain are not unusual incidences.
These very people, fully aware of the ground realities as also consequences, have however started to take risk – building structures and engaging in various other activities in close proximity of streams and rivers, and in the process not hesitating to encroach the stream and river bed.
In such a situation these people should logically not be surprised by the devastation of these structures and habitations by occasional flood in the stream or river. If not, there seems to be something wrong that calls for corrective action.
Risk v/s short term gains
Large proportion of the highways in the state are aligned along the rivers, even though most habitations – apart from those on river terraces – are located along subsidiary streams meeting the main river at different places.
Proximity to the highway makes these places ideal for the supply of various commodities required by the habitations in the watershed, as also for the collection and dispatch of agro-horticultural, artisanal and other products from the hinterland.
Continuously increasing count of passersby makes these places further lucrative. People are therefore incentivised to invest on various services required by the visiting pilgrims and tourists as also people of the hinterland – restaurants, hotels, souvenirs, vehicle repair, other provisions and services.
The ones aiming at catering to the pilgrims and tourists invest along the highway, while those intending to cater to the local population of the hinterland site their establishments along the road connecting the upstream habitations.
Topography often restricts developmental initiatives in the hills and makes upslope expansion challenging. Site development at the same time involves slope cutting and stabilisation measures and doing so is economically taxing. Moreover, all construction material being transported from the plains – the cost of construction in the hills increases with distance from the road head. To add to it, venturing further uphill one is away from the road head, and really not sure if the customers would take the pain of walking uphill.
Compared to this riverside expansion is relatively easy, economic and lucrative – one saves the cost of site development and transportation of building material.
Roads being aligned along the stream – in doing so one remains close to the road head where the inflow of customers is assured.
Ease of construction and commercial opportunities thus induce people to take risk and encroach the stream bed. The structures in the proximity of the streams are generally supported by ill designed mesh of beams and columns founded on the stream bed to ensure that the establishment actually operates at the road level.
Safety of these structures for a couple of monsoons together with flourishing business in these induces others to follow suit, and this positive feedback loop ensures increased encroachment of the stream bed.
Continuing encroachments however constrict the stream channel, and this enhances the risk posed to the structures built along the stream. These are ultimately overrun by the stream water, when there is incessant or heavy rain in the catchment.
One might call it a risk informed decision making, and prefer not to interfere.
But then, there do crop up a number of socio-economic, political, moral as also legal implications of inaction – at least for the state that cannot remain silent spectator to population getting exposed to risk, and facing adversities on a routine basis.
Restriction and regulation
It is therefore required to remove all these encroachments in a phased manner.
To add to it the encroachments damaged, depilated and destroyed by floods should not be allowed to be restored, and appropriate measures should be put in place by the authorities to ensure that the area cleared by the floods is not encroached again.
Banning stream and riverside construction would at the same time rule out recurring losses incurred routinely due to bank erosion and accompanying landslides. This would at the same time reduce roadside congestion that is a major nuisance in hills
Not allowing fading affect bias to take charge, and to keep the memories of previous devastating incidences fresh in the minds of the people, it is required that all previous flood instances together with losses incurred in these be documented and utilised effectively by designing the awareness campaign around these.
Previous flood levels should at the same time be marked in bold and capitals along the streams and rivers together with losses incurred in previous incidences, particularly in the proximity of habitations.
Facilitating development of suitable market place on the hill side could be an incentive for the encroachers to shift.
Clearing the obstructions
It needs to be appreciated that constricted flow path of streams and rivers enhances their devastation potential. Moreover, streams and rivers are always poised to reclaim their bed, and water can any day hit the highest flow level (HFL) or even cross it.
Having marked previous flood levels, appropriate legal instrument should be instituted by the authorities to remove all structures along stream and riverside located below HFL and officially prohibit all anthropogenic activities in the zone so identified as falling within HFL.
Having done so, strict regulatory and punitive measures have to be put in place to ensure compliance. To add to it relief has to. be disallowed for losses incurred in that zone.
Unobstructed river view
Unobstructed view of the streams and rivers would add to the aesthetic value, besides adding to the joy of driving in the hills. This would at the same time be an incentive for passersby to stop and relax, which in turn would add to the footfall of the roadside establishments.
Appropriate legal instrument in consultation with all stakeholders, after due advocacy in favour of the same through various forums, is thus recommended for restricting the structures that obstruct river or stream view.