Was Char Dham Yatra stopped after heavy rain warning ?

Dehradun : Though the number of dead in the gruesome tragedy that hit Uttarakhand is officially being put at a little over 200, senior government officials admitted, albeit off the record that the toll could reach into thousands, if the number of persons reported to be missing is taken into consideration.

Uttarakhand minister for disaster management, Harak Singh Rawat, has admitted on record that two days before the rains hit this small mountain state, the government had been warned of high intensity rains, including possibility of cloudburst at one or two places.

Chaos mars relief and rescue operations in Uttarakhand_2

The government had taken note of the warning and stopped the chaar dhaam yatra, he claimed.

Even as the pilgrims on the yatra claim that they had not been warned of the likelihood of an impending deluge, by any form of publicity in the matter either by word of mouth or through the media, Rawat has officially said that action had been taken.

“We had stopped the yatra to Kedarnath at Ram Bara and Gauri while the yatra to the other shrines had also been stopped at placed”, Rawat maintained.

But then why is Rawat, or for that matter the government not coming out with even the likelihood of the number of people who could have died.

If the Kedarnath yatra was stopped at Ram Bara and Gauri Kund, then there should have been about 10,000 pilgrims either on their way up on their way down from the shrine.

It has now been officially said that Ram Bara has been completely washed away and there is nothing but silt and debris there, while the damage at Gauri Kund and Kedarnath is devastating.

This is exactly what has happened and there are pictures taken by choppers to support this. The toll in the Kedarnath valley alone should be in thousands.

Then there is the Badrinath valley, where reports claim that the extent of damage is comparatively less, the Gangotri valley, where too the damage is reported to be extensive and the Yamnotri valley where too excessive damage is said to have taken place.

Added to this are the townships, where large number of hotels and houses have fallen into the cascading waters of the Ganga and its tributaries.

Pilgrims who have been rescued and have reached Dehradun have with tears in their eyes narrated the tragic scenes that unfolded before them.

Many who were saved by the army and ITBP personnel said that though they were strictly warned to keep their eyes on the bridle paths as they were brought down the mountain slopes, lest they fall into the swirling waters, but they could see bodies littering the landscape.

As of now the focus is on rescuing those who are trapped or stranded at various places, rather than counting the dead, which is quite explainable.

But there are fears that the cascading waters may have swept a large number of bodies into the swirling waters of the rivers, or even worse there could be many buried under the debris.

For the army, ITBP and NDRF personnel who are risking their lives to save the people, it is a harrowing time, as it is also for the IAF choppers undertaking sorties and trying to save the people.

But most people, including the pilgrims who are stranded believe that things will be much faster and they will be able to get out only if the state government makes efforts to open the roads that are blocked at various places.

A government spokesman said that efforts are being made in this direction and alternate routes are being looked into and the condition of those roads studied, whether they will be able to handle the increased traffic.

But the major problem is the large number of roads that are stranded at the highways between points that have been washed away, they claimed.

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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