In this time of adversity, while there are food, water and biscuits, there is also politics

Uttarakhand is abuzz with helicopters whirring in the skies, Ministers from all over the country are chipping in with aid, money is flooding the Uttarakhand Disaster Management and Mitigation Centre. All this has happened this past week after massive rains and floods ravaged the Himalayan State.

Politics too reared its ugly head in the time of crisis. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi undertook an aerial survey of the affected areas on Saturday, even as Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde asked VIPs not to visit the area lest relief operations be hampered. The BJP called for declaring the event a national calamity.

Last Sunday (June 16) and the day after, a confluence of very heavy rainfall, cloudbursts, floods, and landslips devastated Rudraprayag, Uttarkashi, and Chamoli districts, where Char Dham pilgrims from all over the country, including some foreigners, had converged.

“The water swept [everything] away in front of my eyes,” said Radhamohan Soni as he waited to catch a flight back to Rajasthan from Jolly Grant Airport here, recalling the horror of floods that hit Kedarnath.

“Around 7 a.m. on Monday, the women had gone to the river to freshen up when a humongous wave of water, carrying boulders and debris, approached our building,” said Radhamohan.

“Everyone rushed to the top of the building we were staying in. I somehow survived as the river hit the lower part of the building, sweeping it away and filling it with debris. A woman was simply swept away; it looked as though she got dissolved in the water; she couldn’t even cry [out] for help,” he said.

Radhamohan lost connection with the rest of his crew. Having no information from the authorities, he was sitting forlorn in front of the airport gates. Similar was the case with many who stood in front of the airport, the Disaster Mitigation Centre and hospitals in the city, with enlarged printouts of photographs of missing friends and relatives.

While different States announced aid, the authorities in Uttarakhand seemed clueless about how to handle the situation. “Disaster management is a new concept, which is why it will take some time for the authorities to understand how to work in this field,” said Pradeep Shukla, Section Officer, Disaster Mitigation Centre.

In several places, food packets dropped by helicopters were swept away in the river. Many copters returned with the food packets, having found no safe place to drop them.

L.N. Tapadia has moved between Guptkashi, Phata and other areas, in search of his wife Prabha Tapadia, who has been missing since June 17. “My mother was on her way back from Kedarnath,” Prabha’s daughter Ankita Tapadia said as she waited in Dehradun with her brother for news.

While officials have declared that the rescue operations in Kedarnath are over, Ankita is restless but hopes to find her mother.

While the ineffectiveness of the Uttarakhand government has come to the fore, other States have lent a helping hand.

Survivors, however, are burdened by anxiety. Every day, a throng gathers in front of the airport. These comprise people waiting for their family members to return, government authorities and journalists and groups distributing water, biscuits, cold drinks, and fruits to the needy.

The banner of one of the well-maintained pandal reads ‘BJP Rahat Shivir [BJP relief camp].’ In this time of adversity, while there is food, water and biscuits, there is also politics.

This article has been corrected for factual error.