I am as relieved as anybody else that young Srikant Balaji is safe and sound, though perhaps a bit under the weather after his recent experience. In case you don’t know who he is, he was with a team from the Chennai Trekkers Club and got lost some 48 hours ago in the Western Ghats near Sakleshpur in Karnataka. The story made the headlines in many newspapers, which is how I came to know about it in the first place. There was the usual scrambling about amongst utter confusion at the start. People feared the missing boy may have fallen prey to wild animals, been captured by Naxalites or worse. His parents said the organisers of the trek had been less than transparent about details (perhaps because they didn’t know too much themselves) and as always there was pressure on the Government to mount a search for the missing young man. The Forest dept, the Police, and even the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) all got involved. The public waited as another human interest story played out in front of them.However, the point I raise is rather different. To what extent can the State be held responsible for everything that happens in their domain? If there is a natural calamity, of course the State is involved, and has to be. The floods in Uttarkhand a little over a year ago spring to mind. What a huge tragedy that was! Hapless pilgrims were caught totally unawares and many lost their lives in the floods and landslides that rocked this hilly state. We remember too well all that happened and the stories that came out of this tragedy. There is no doubt at all in my mind about the State’s responsibility in such cases.
But what happens in cases when the “to be rescued” don’t want to be rescued as happened in Iraq recently. While nurses were flown back by the Government, some of them and some other Indian workers specifically stated they would have liked to stay behind and take their chances there. Or, that they would be more than willing to go back there again despite the uncertain circumstances. If they choose to live in such dangerous conditions, knowing the risks involved, to what extent can the Indian State be responsible? In fact, there are many people in worse circumstances in India itself!! They are not granted such consideration and help by the Government.
Likewise, in the tragedy in Himachal Pradesh dam waters swept away 24 young students who were tourists from Hyderabad. Were the dam authorities to blame for releasing the river waters without adequate signals? Were the students to blame for being where they should not have been when it was reportedly an unscheduled halt in their excursion? No one knows the right answers.
Coming back to Srikant Balaji’s case, it is reported the trekkers did not take the required specific permissions to go into an area considered dangerous. Don’t the organisers have some responsibility? What happened could have ended in a tragedy, fortunately it did not. Only one man was lost and thankfully found again. What if many of them had died or been held hostage? It left me feeling that spending State resources to rescue people who have done wrong may only lead to others doing the same. Should precious resources ( paid for by the tax payers, including you and me) be spent in saving people who have asked for trouble- and perhaps got it?
There is no right answer.