The Uttarakhand Cabinet held a meeting in Kedarnath on Monday in what is being described as a novel way to tell the world that the holy town’s redevelopment after last year’s devastating landslides was the government’s top priority.
The meeting away from the seat of power, Dehradun, was also meant to signal to tourists and pilgrims that Kedarnath was once again ready to welcome them, with most of the reconstruction work completed in the region.
The Cabinet’s decision to meet at an altitude of over 11,000 feet has a parallel in the world’s first underwater Cabinet meeting organised by the Maldives government in 2009 to highlight the threat of global warming.
A road map for Kedarnath and Kedar Valley redevelopment was approved in the meeting. “The redevelopment plan would make Kedarnath an even better pilgrimage destination than it was before the deluge,” Chief Minister Harish Rawat said after returning from the meeting.
The State’s economy, which depends majorly on the six months of religious tourism, suffered a blow last year when the floods destroyed roads and infrastructure in and around the Char Dham destinations -- Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri. The tourism sector suffered loses to the tune of Rs. 12,000 crore.
The Kedarnath temple, which attracted over six lakh pilgrims and tourists every year, received just over 40,000 pilgrims in 2014. Arrival of pilgrims at other Char Dham destinations also declined drastically, pushing the State government to reiterate its commitment towards restoring the pilgrimage destinations and the State’s image.
Though much appreciated, the decision of holding the meeting at Kedarnath drew flak from the BJP leaders, who called it a “stunt which was a waste of money and served no purpose.”
The BJP showed its displeasure by boycotting the invitation of the State government to participate in the meeting to give suggestions towards rebuilding the Kedarnath shrine and the Kedar Valley.
Few months ago, Mr. Rawat had floated the idea of holding Cabinet meetings outside the State capital. The purpose was to focus on the issues of the area where the meeting would be held. “This would ensure development in areas across the State that generally remain unnoticed,” Mr. Rawat had said. Kedarnath was the second such destination for the Cabinet meeting. The first meeting was held at Almora in the Kumaon region.