Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, who made an aerial survey of the flood-ravaged Uttarkashi, Kedarnath and Badrinath regions on Saturday, pulled up the Uttarakhand government for lack of coordination in rescue and relief operations.
Holding that VIP movement impeded relief work in the disaster areas, Mr. Shinde said none other than Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna should be allowed to land their choppers on such sites.
Speaking to journalists following a high-level review of the situation with Mr. Bahuguna, he expressed anguish at the large-scale destruction of human life and infrastructure and called for swift, coordinated transport of food and medicines to the stranded persons.
Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Ajay Bhattiya said: “Mr. Shinde should clarify whether the fault for lapses lay only [with] the State government or the Centre also as both are ruled by Congress-led coalitions.”
Ignoring Mr. Shinde’s advice, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi made an aerial survey of Uttarkashi, Kedarnath and Badrinath on Saturday.
After the survey, Mr. Modi said: “I am acquainted with this region as I have worked here. I could [glean] a lot through the aerial survey about the scale of the tragedy, the lives of the pilgrims lost and their sufferings.”
Later, he met Mr. Bahuguna and offered Gujarat’s help to reconstruct the Kedarnath shrine.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Modi said two charter planes with a capacity of 140 persons each would start evacuating Gujarat’s stranded pilgrims to Ahmedabad.
Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda also carried out an aerial survey and later met Mr. Bahuguna along with Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot in Dehradun.
Mr. Shinde decried the Bharatiya Janata Party’s demand for declaring the disaster as a national calamity as being politically-driven.
“What is the gain in declaring it as a national calamity? It is a natural calamity and we are doing our best to tackle the disaster and allot the best resources for rescue and rehabilitation,” he said.
Security forces on Saturday rescued 17 foreign tourists from Dharasu and spotted 1,000 pilgrims stuck between Kedarnath and Gaurikund even as bad weather hampered chopper operations in some places.
An eight-member team of experts is being sent to the Kedarnath shrine to ascertain the number of bodies lying in the temple area, State Disaster Mitigation and Management Centre officials said. Photographs of the dead would be posted on the State government’s official website.