15-member team sent to clean up Kedarnath temple

The Shri Badrinath-Shri Kedarnath Temple Committee has deputed a 15-member team to Kedarpuri to clean up the temple for pujas to resume, even as fresh rains hampered rescue in the flood-ravaged Uttarakhand on Monday.

Talking to The Hindu on the phone from Badrinath, V.D. Singh, Chief Executive Officer of the committee, lauded the Indo-Tibetan Border Police for restoring power supply to Badrinath. There was no dearth of food, he said, and all the stranded pilgrims had been given free food and accommodation in lodges run by the committee. However, as fuel stocks had run out, the authorities must rush diesel and kerosene. The pilgrims were getting restive as they had been stranded here for a week.

“The disaster has hit Kedarpuri, not Lord Kedarnath. Kedarpuri has witnessed disasters several times. This time too, the temple, the idol of the Lord, the kamandal, the house of the pujari and the bhandar-graha are intact. All we have to do is to cleanse and purify the temple and resume puja,” Mr. Singh said.

Rains and low clouds in Dehradun and the Garhwal hills grounded the rescue helicopters, but they swung back into action after the rains abated in the afternoon.

Fresh rains added to the misery of residents of dozens villages in Garhwal and Kumaon, who were rendered homeless by heavy rains and floods last week. They urged the government to airdrop food grains immediately because link roads or tracks might take weeks to be restored.

Uttarakhand Food and Civil Supplies Minister Pritam Singh, who is camping at Barkot in Uttarkashi district, said efforts were being made to get off rations to interior villages by helicopters as most roads, and even mule tracks, had been washed away.

Link roads blocked

More than 210 link roads remain blocked in Uttarkashi, Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Tehri districts. The Gangotri highway may take nearly a month to be reopened to traffic. The Kedarnath highway is blocked between Rudraprayag and Tilwara, and between Tilwara and Augustmuni. Over 60 roads in Chamoli district have been blocked by landslips.

Vinod Kumar Duggal of the National Disaster Management Agency, who has been deputed as the nodal officer for coordinating rescue and relief, met representatives of the Uttarakhand and Union government agencies engaged in the operations. He told journalists after the meeting that there were no major gaps in coordination. “All agencies are doing their best. They have done a remarkable work, barring some operational issues, which have been addressed.”

Reports have emerged of leopards eating corpses that lie scattered in the Kedarnath area. Eyewitnesses have said they saw a leopard devouring a body near Guptkashi. Fearing that leopards could become man-eaters by preying on unattended bodies, Forest Department officials have urged the authorities to cremate them immediately. Medical experts, too, have warned of an epidemic if the decaying corpses are not disposed of forthwith.

The police have asked the stranded pilgrims not to eat wild fruits and flowers as some of them are poisonous.

Narendrajeet Singh Bindra, chairman of the State Minorities Commission, said the last batch of pilgrims stranded at Hemkund Sahib had been sent to Joshimath. He thanked rescue teams for extricating 9,000 pilgrims from Govind Ghat and 5,000 from Govind Dham.

B.M. Bhatt of the Badri Kedar Vikas Samiti has urged the government to establish the infrastructure needed for weather monitoring and prediction, and an early warning system for the Char Dham Yatra. The government should also establish helipads in all development blocks so as to take urgent help to interior villagers in case of natural calamities.

Former Chief Secretary R.S. Tolia has said that the search and rescue system should be revamped immediately, training local youth in rescue and first aid.