Vijay Bahuguna : a modern day Nero

Dehra Dun : It is but natural for anyone stranded for five days without food, water or shelter in the mountains without any sight of relief or rescue operations nearby, to nurse a grudge against the Uttarkhand government. But if not even one of the over 30,000 persons rescued from the chaar dham yatra tragedy has anything good to say of the administration, something is obviously very wrong.

With reports of the uncompassionate and inept handling of the situation, coupled with lapses galore trickling in with every helicopter full of stranded pilgrims being brought o the helipads at Dehra Dun, and aware of the fact that it could paint a rather dismal picture of administration by the Congress government, the party high command is resorting to a damage control exercise.

This is perhaps why the rescue and relief figures being doled out by union I & B minister, Manish Tewari, at Delhi are highly exaggerated as compared to the figures doled out by chief minister Vijay Bahuguna at Dehra Dun. Obviously while the chief minister is speaking to the media which is in constant touch with the survivors and those involved in the operations, Tewari can shoot off the cuff.

Take the figures as given by Bahuguna and Tewari to the media on Saturday evening. Bahuguna said that 1760 people had been rescued from the various places where they were stranded by a team of 44 helicopters (19 of the IAF and 25 deployed by the Uttarakhand government from private companies.

In sharp contrast and in an effort to paint a rosy picture of the efforts being made by the Congress government in Uttarakhand, Tewari told the media in Delhi that 10,000 people had been evacuated in 61 helicopters that were involved in the relief and rescue operations. The I & B minister should have got his numbers right as the 61 choppers could not evacuate 10,000 people, taking into consideration the fact that sorties were marred by bad weather.

Perhaps the union home minister Sushil Shinde aware of the fact that the Uttarakhand government was at the receiving end for its complete inability in handling the situation at this hour of crisis in the state, tried to shift the blame to lack of coordination between the various agencies involved in the operations. He was also aware of the fact that much was required of the operations as even after the seventh day, over 35,000 people remain stranded at various points in the higher reaches of this small mountain state.

What can be more tragic than the fact that though the state government has hired the coppers from private companies to airlift the stranded people free of cost, the helicopters are demanding huge sums of money for ferrying the people and the state government authorities are keeping quiet on the issue for obvious reasons.

Rajiv Garg of Shamli told newspersons that he and his family members were tranded and he kept requesting the concerned authorities that they be airlifted. When all pleas fell on deaf ears, he asked his family members in Delhi to do something, who got in touch with an aviation company whose choppers are involved in the operations, who took Rs 11 lakhs for airlifting the Garg family.

Likewise a family of Bhatinda paid Rs five lakhs to be airlifted from near Badrinath to Dehra Dun. An Aggarwal family from Hyderabad paid Rs 20 lakhs to get its 16 members airlifted from Gaurikunmd in the Kedar valley to Dehra dun. A lot many other families also had to pay through their nose but shied away from telling the facts, saying that they were thankful that they are still alive and as such money is now no consideration.

There are reports that the concerned authorities involved in the rescue and relief operations have created such circumstances where the private companies can fleece the stranded pilgrims who are willing to pay any amounts to get out of the ordeal that they have been undergoing through the last five days. Allegations of a hand-in-glove nexus are also doing the rounds.

The stranded pilgrims who are being brought to the state headquarters here while lampooning the Vijay Bahuguna government and his team of officers for the shipshoddy relief and rescue operations being undertaken, were all praise for the army jawans and other personnel of the para-military forces who braved all the odds and even went to the extent of piggy back carrying the aged, sick and infirm over the hostile terrain so that they could be taken to safety.

They openly went to the extent of saying that had it not been for the armed forces personnel who went out of their way to help the stranded, many of them would have been dead by now. Some of the educated elderly literate men and women while ridiculing the Uttarkhand government said that it neither had the expertise, nor the will power or required machinery to undertake the chaar dham yatra and as such it should be handed over to the armed forces.

In fact, it is not the stranded pilgrims alone that are not happy with the functioning of the Vijay Bahuguna government, even the Congress high command it appears has doubts on the ability and capability of the Uttarkhand government in handling the situation. This is perhaps why the party high command has asked Mr Motilal Vora and Ambika Soni to supervise the rescue and relief operations being undertaken.

One will recall that Nero fiddled while Rome was burning, in the same very vein Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay bahuguna was in Delhi with the party high command on Monday morning, when the tragedy had struck the state and thousands had been killed, and returned only on Tuesday. A modern day Nero.

A journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt is Editor Hill Post (Uttarakhand). Jagdish has worked with India's leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications. A highly acclaimed journalist, Jagdish is a recipient of many awards, latest being the 2011 Development Journalism Award. He lives in Dehra Dun.

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