Relief Operations Come To a Standstill

Dehradun: Eighty days after the Uttarakhand floods, DNA finds that the relief operations have come to a standstill in the region. The toll stands at 4,890 - far less than the estimated 10,000+ declared by the state. Also, the government is now using its men and machinery for the September 11 puja at Kedarnath temple.

Two months after a cloud burst and subsequent floods devastated large parts of Uttarakhand in the upper reaches of the Himalayas, the state government has called off relief operations even as 272 villages remain cut off and 248 roads are not fully functional.

Instead, the government has decided to resurrect the Kedarnath temple for a pooja scheduled on September 11, with most of its 'men and material' being utilised to make the final arrangements there.

"We have stationed 500 men at the temple, who are landscaping the place, and a private company has been employed to clear the debris," said Bhaskaran Joshi, disaster management cell secretary, Uttarakhand.

Regular helicopter sorties - one sortie costs Rs4-5 lakh - carry officials for inspection of the area and sometimes transport construction material as well. The state government is planning to engage another MI-26 helicopter from the Indian Air Force to carry material for construction around the temple.

A visit to some villages in Rudraprayag and Chamoli district, where the disaster claimed many lives and caused widespread devastation, belies the government's claims of having settled all the claims of the affected people.

The lives of villagers in cut-off areas like Gorigaon, Rambara, Chomasi and Kotma show that the government has done very little to eradicate their daily problems after the disaster. Locals in these villages allege that the government should now take care of people on the way to Kedarnath, instead of concentrating on the temple itself.

"I travel 18km on foot almost every day to get eatables. As for relief material, I have to travel the same distance to get it, if at all," says Purshotam Semwal, a resident of Chomasi village, who lost three relatives in the floods and was blinded in one eye. His village is in the Kalimath area, located on the banks of the Mandakini river. A rope, which carries locals on a trolley managed by the Border Security Force, connects it with the other bank.

Not just roads, even relief material has not reached many, as there is no way to access their villages. The goods were dumped on the nearest motorable road, dozens of kilometres away; and in rare cases, dropped by chopper once or twice.

"I managed to get kerosene after 45 days on August 20 from Gupt Kashi," said Sunil, 25, a resident of Gorigoan village, perched on a mountaintop on the way to Kedarnath.

The state government, which does not allow outsiders to go beyond Phata, 10km from Guptkashi, has an explanation for everything. "Crossing the river by rope may be alien for people in Delhi, but it is a routine here. And we have given relief to each and every person affected that will last for more than two months," said Joshi.

He claimed that they could restart the operation, if needed. The government has also constituted a committee of senior officials to make a reconstruction and redevelopment plan.

In his latest presentation to Uttarakhand MLAs, Joshi informed that Rs122 crore in ex gratia relief has been distributed. But he is tight-lipped about the number of helicopter sorties used for carrying officials and why the government is concentrating on the Kedarnath temple, and not people.

However, Joshi's junior colleague in the government tells us that the government is 'trying to win brownie points' by starting the pooja in Kedarnath.

"Some scientists have cautioned that too much human intervention may destroy the temple and its surroundings. But the pooja will help the government distract attention from the relief, rescue and rehabilitation programme," said a government functionary, wishing anonymity.

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