Porters, ponies stranded and forgotten in Uttarakhand floods

Haridwar, June 30 (IANS) Hundreds of porters and over 2,000 ponies are still untraceable in the ‘Himalayan tsunami’ that has wreaked havoc in this picturesque hill state, with NGOs claiming that some of them have been swept away by the flood waters or been stranded and are waiting for authorities to rescue them.

According to NGOs, some of the porters and their ponies need immediate evacuation or they would die a slow and cruel death due to starvation.

“There are over 2,000 ponies stuck in Char Dham of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri, as well as Gauri Kund, Govindghat, Rudraprayag and other areas. Either their owners have abandoned them as the flood water entered the area to save themselves, or they were swept away, leaving behind the ponies,” Laxman Negi, secretary of NGO Janadesh, which works for the rights of women and children and also tries to help villagers in safeguarding their livelihood, told IANS.

“These people (porters) need to be urgently evacuated. There is no road connectivity. There are no bridges and no roads. Authorities have to think of them,” he added.

Hundreds have been killed – some fear the toll could be in thousands – and thousands have lost everything since floods caused by torrential rains led to death and destruction nearly a fortnight ago.

Major pilgrimage centres have also suffered terrible damage. Pilgrimages to places like Kedarnath and Badrinath, home to among the most revered Hindu shrines, are unlikely for a few years.

Rescue workers have evacuated over 100,000 people in the state, but some are still stranded.

Negi said the state authorities are totally focusing on evacuating and rescuing tourists and pilgrims and are not bothered about the locals.

“The worst is in Govindghat. I have heard that some hundreds of ponies are there. The authorities need to think of them otherwise we will find their carcasses. To rescue them, the army needs to be roped in,” Negi told IANS over phone from Joshimath.

Govindghat is the commencement point of the trek to Hemkund Sahib, the holy shrine of the Sikhs, and the Valley of Flowers, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005.

Chandramohan of the Parvartiya Niyojan Aur Vikas Sansthan, also expressed the same concern. The NGO has been working for the development of the villagers.

“I think around 2,500 ponies are stuck in these flood affected areas. We have heard this from villagers who fled from these areas. We have also heard that some of the porters, who did not leave their ponies as they are their only source of livelihood, are in bad state because of starvation,” Chandramohan told IANS from Guptkashi.

According to Barsha Chakraborty, programme officer of ActionAid, the porter community has not been registered with the state government. The two NGOs are their partners.

According to rough estimates, there are 20,000 porters in the state that either take tourists on ponies or carry them or their luggage’s on their backs to far flung pilgrimage centres.

“Hundreds of porters are still missing. Many porters were swept away in the flood water or died of starvation as help did not reach them on time. We have also heard that many were forced to leave the ponies to save their lives. It’s so tragic. They are their livelihood,” Chakraborty told IANS.

“This is our major area of intervention. We are working with the porter community. We are talking to their families as many have not been able to reach home. Some of them are the sole bread earners,” she added.

She said for them tourism is the only source of income – and that seems to have come to an end at least for a few years.

Chakraborty also lambasted the state government for not thinking for these people.

“We don’t have any hope from the state government. They are not giving any information about the local populace,” she added.

“The authorities are not ready to understand that at the end they will need the help of mules, ponies and porters to carry relief material to far flung villages that have been cut off or washed away. For how long will helicopters continue to air drop food and relief materials? It’s time the state government thinks of its own people,” Chakraborty added.

(Kavita Bajeli-Datt can be contacted at [email protected])

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