Misery and uncertainty continued to plague thousands of villagers rendered homeless in the interior areas of Uttarkashi, Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Pithoragarh even as teams of the Army, ITBP, NDRF and State police rescued over 10,000 pilgrims on Sunday. The remaining 7,000 odd pilgrims would be rescued soon, authorities hope.
The rescue operations were hampered by mild showers in places like Dehradun and Joshimath. The Met office has predicted more rains on Monday and Tuesday.
The Director General of Police has ordered all local police chiefs to escort pilgrims trekking their way out to avoid mishaps. Special security would be provided to women, he said.
Many pilgrims and residents wondered why the government had not made proper arrangements for the Char Dham Yatra even after 12 years of formation of Uttarakhand. Disasters due to cloudbursts, flash floods and landslides have been common but the authorities seemed content with small temporary measures after each disaster, said Renu D. Singh of the Samadhan Women Helpline.
Sarita and Neetu, both social activists, wondered why neither the Bharatiya Janata Party nor the Congress allowed the Vidhan Sabha sessions to function. “Important Bills and even the Budget are passed without discussions. Does the electorate elect the MLAs for this,” they asked.
Jagdish Chandra Jakhmola, a retired teacher, wanted the MLAs not to disturb Vidhan Sabha proceedings and seriously debate how disasters could be mitigated in Uttarakhand. The Centre should also make efforts by forming a group of well meaning experts to suggest measures to minimise losses caused by natural calamities and also pitch in with liberal funds for repairing or reinforcing infrastructure, he said.
Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna, after consulting with religious leaders such as Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati, ordered the officials to immediately send a team to Kedarnath to clear the area of debris and cremate the dead bodies lying there with traditional rituals after postmortem and collection of DNA samples. A ‘mahayagya’ will be held in Haridwar on the 13th day of the tragedy for the peace of the departed souls, Mr. Bahuguna said.
Mr. Bahuguna also said the rehabilitation of Kedarnath shrine was a top priority of the gand it will be carried out after taking suggestions from the Archaeological Survey of India.
Mr. Bahuguna said that the welfare of the disaster-hit villagers was equally important and necessary rations and medical care was being rushed there. “The damaged roads and bridges were making access to the remote areas difficult,” he said.
Mr. Bahuguna ordered the rescue teams to make a second survey of areas from where pilgrims had been rescued to make sure no one was left out. The Chief Minister wanted the officials to keep a backup rescue plan ready in view of forecasts of more rains in the coming days.
Union Minister Harish Rawat, who trekked about 18 km from Rudraprayag to Augustmuni on Sunday morning, told The Hindu over phone that devastation in the villages was extensive and it would take a lot of time to bring things back to normal. Mr. Rawat who visited Gauchar also said the ITBP was doing an excellent job in the village-to-village search for survivors in the Kedarnath-Lambagarh area. A large number of houses, hotels, vehicles and agriculture fields have been washed away, Mr. Rawat said.
Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, along with senior Congress leaders Moti Lal Vora and Ambika Soni, reviewed the relief centres set up in Rishikesh and Dehradun.
Mr. Hooda said that 50,000 blankets would be sent for people stranded at various place in Uttarakhand and, out of these, 25,000 blankets had already been dispatched from Panipat on Sunday. He said that buses of Haryana Roadways had been deployed to carry rescued persons from Dehradun, Rishikesh and Haridwar to their destinations free of cost.
The Baluakot and Jualjiwi villages in district Pithoragarh were some of the worst-affected with some of the villagers trekking through hazardous areas to the district headquarters and taking shelter in the homes of relatives or friends. Pramod Tamta who reached the district headquarters said that nearly half of the houses, shops and agricultural fields in Baluakot and Jualjiwi had been washed away.
Heart-rending scenes could be witnessed at the Sahasradhara helipad and Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun where hundreds of relatives could be seen frantically showing photographs of their kin to the rescued pilgrims, asking them if they had seen their loved ones.