With 166 skeletal finds, a question mark on Kedarnath rescue operations

A view of the washed off buildings area near Kedarnath Dham in Uttarakhand. PTI

Dehradun : Vijay Bahuguna’s stint as chief minister of Uttarakhand seems to be jinxed. From the day the party high command decided that he will be the new head of the Congress-led government ion this small mountain state, controversies have been dogging him and he is at his wits end to shake them off, but has failed so far.

Just when it appeared that was to have some respite from the controversies, the finding of skeletons and other remains in the higher reaches above the Kedarnath shrine have a put a question mark on the seriousness and effectiveness of the rescue and relief operations that were launched post Himalayan tsunami on June 16-17.

It is being categorically stated that the about 166 skeletons and other remains that have been found in the upper reaches of the shrine at a height of about 14,000 ft, are of those pilgrims who were caught at the Kedarnath temple on the ill-fated day and ran upwards of the shrine to save themselves from the gushing waters.

However, with no rescue or relief reaching them they fell to starvation and cold at those heights.

That the skeletal and other remains of the 166 persons were found within three days of the team that has gone to clean the temple premises, indicate that they were of people who had somehow managed to escape from the rushing water and debris and taken refuge at the safe place. But with no food and shelter they finally died.

It has raised a question mark on the manner in which the rescue and relief operations were conducted by the Uttarakhand government.

There was no planning and the chopper sorties were being utilized more to evacuate stranded persons close to VVIPs  and by state Congress leaders for a public relationship exercise than to find and evict the marooned and stranded.

No efforts were made to send specially trained personnel of the Mountaineering Institute at Uttarkashi, or of the para-military personnel immediately after the tragedy to look for the people who may have fled and taken shelter at these heights.

In fact it is surprising that when the para-military personnel did undertake a combing exercise it was at the lower heights and they found no one.

True some of the personnel had gone to the forests at parallel heights to the Kedarnath region and found some bodies of children and adults, which they photographed, but in the confusion and medley of the tragedy, no coordinated and planned efforts were undertaken to scan the upper reaches of the shrine and the focus was only getting those stranded on the char dham route to saferty.

Those who had managed to save themselves from the Himalayan tsunami died of cold and starvation in the upper areas of the shrine.

Leader of the opposition Ajay Bhatt said that the very fact that such a large number of skeletal and other remains were found above the shrine in just three days, was a clear indicator that thousands of people had been killed in the June 16-17 tragedy that struck the Kedarnath valley.

“The state government is responsible for the death of people due to starvation and cold, which is all the more reason that the present Uttarakhand government should be dismissed on humanitarian grounds”, he added.

He said that it was very obvious that people trying to evade the fury of the water and debris that was coming down the mountains side in the Mandakini river with all its fury, would have fled upwards to save their lives.

Under such circumstances, the immediate efforts of the government should have been to send special rescue and relief teams with medicine, food and clothing to save them; had this been done, they would have survived, he 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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