Tons of material lying unattended in trucks idling by the road

It is a rather aggressive way to offer relief. As a vehicle approaches the city, dozens of volunteers race towards them, thumping on the glass windows, insisting on handing over water, biscuits and packed fruit juice. They are here to offer “relief” to the “aapada” (calamity) victims and don’t seem to care that the “beneficiaries” could be just passers-by.

Some of them don’t even ask, they simply shove the relief material into the vehicles. The scene is no different at several other places in Uttarakhand, where relief work and volunteerism has become some sort of a contest, with each group trying to outdo the other.

“On our way to Jolly Grant airbase from Dehradun city, we were stopped and offered water and biscuits at least half a dozen times. We just rolled up the windows,” said a mediaperson not wishing to be named. Outside the airbase, there are hundreds of voluntary and religious organisations that have set up camps, offering food. But you could easily mistake some of them for enthusiastic sales people, urging passers-by to try their fare.

Even as villagers stranded in far-flung areas await help, food and other logistical support, there are tonnes of relief material lying unattended in trucks idling by the road.

“It is heartening to see how many people have turned up to offer help and just how much food, clothes and other material is being sent; but unfortunately not all of it is being utilised properly. There is no assessment on what is required and how much. Consequently, a lot of food and other relief material is being wasted,” acknowledged an official of the Uttarakhand administration.

His views are echoed by almost all the organisations across Uttarakhand that are involved in the relief operations, yet, no one seems to have reached a conclusion on how to address this concern. The administration claims it has set up nodal agencies to help, but there is a clear lack of coordination visible on the ground.

An IAF man speaking on condition of anonymity told The Hindu, that along with other relief material that was taken up to Badrinath earlier this week, there were tonnes of ghee, which he found unopened and unattended even three days after it was airlifted. “It [ghee] was lying there unused, along with a pile of blankets that were soaking wet,” he said.

So who decides how much of what is needed? “The initial reaction is to reach out with whatever the stranded people need, food, water, medicines and warm clothes. That is what happened here as well, but yes, sometimes there is lack of coordination. In fact this is a reason why we discouraged other States and organisations from carrying out relief work without consulting us, but it was misconstrued,” the Uttarakhand official said.

Badrinath resident Kamla Bhatt who was recently airlifted along with her husband and grandson said the locals provided food to pilgrims during the first few days, but then the supplies began to dry up and with little help coming in from the administration, people were reluctant to serve.

“We opened a lodge for people to stay for free, the panchayat gave them food, but help from the government came only after a few days and after we told the military [IAF] to come with food packets and water,” she told The Hindu.

The sight of relief camps every few metres and people eager to help here surprised Ms. Bhatt.

“This is not where people need blankets, food and medicines... Why aren’t these things being taken to the villages in Badrinath where people need them?” she asked.

People still stranded

Even as political parties outdo each other in flagging off trucks with relief material, there are hundreds of people in the upper reaches, with no road connectivity, waiting for help.

“Villages in Srinagar, Rudraprayag, and adjoining areas are still not getting relief. In Chamoli there were 600 stranded people, of which 300 were kids. There are villages like Gopishwar and Narayan Pagad where relief has not yet reached,” said Gajendra Chauhan of the Sri Bhuvaneshwari Mahila Ashram, an NGO which is carrying out damage assessment work in the State. Cut-off roads and bad weather has left trucks stranded at several places.

Swami Vishalananda of the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansathan, that is running many relief camps said that in Srinagar alone there were recurrent landslips.

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