Dehra Dun : The rural economy special in the higher hinterlands of this small hill state is likely to be shattered this year, much to the chagrin of the locals.
The economy of this region is more or less totally dependant upon the char dham yatra, which seems to be a cropper this year, despite all the efforts being made by the Uttarakhand government to draw in pilgrims from all over the country and abroad.
Chief minister Harish Rawat, who had replaced Vijay Bahuguna at the helm of affairs in this small hill state had promised to restore and repair the roads that had been badly damaged in the June 16-17 last year tragedy, when the ‘Himalayan Tsunami’ had hit the region.
It was not only the roads but the large number of guest houses and dhabas that catered to the pilgrims which had also taken a beating.
In fact even the central government was concerned that to restore the economy of the region, which stood to be devastated because of the damage to the infrastructure due to the flash floods, it was absolute necessary that the roads and the necessary infrastructure is put in place so that the char dham yatra gets underway in time and the economy is not paralysed.
It was precisely because of this and the fact that the Vijay Bahuguna government was not delivering, in the sense that the restoration and repair works were progressing at a snail’s pace that the centre decided to replace Bahuguna with Harish rawat as chief minister of the state.
Rawat had assured the centre of putting in all efforts to ensure that the char dham yatra takes place and the people of the region make up to some extent what they had lost.
With the chief minister and the chief secretary undertaking visits to the region and examining the pace at which work is being undertaken, there are reasons to believe that the roads may not be in a very good condition, but still in a situation where the yatra can take place. This is also perhaps why it was decided by the government that not more than 500 pilgrims will be allowed up at a single point of time so that there will be less pressure on the roads and the badly shattered infrastructure.
But the Uttarakhand government has failed to restore the confidence of the pilgrims from all over the country.
The wide negative publicity that the Bahuguna government got post the Jun 16-17 tragedy in the rescue and relief operations and stories that were carried by the media from survivors how they braved the inclement weather and waited for days to be taken to safety, still seems to haunt the people of the country.
This is perhaps why despite the efforts being made by the state government to ensure that there is a normal char dham yatra, there seem to be no takers for it this year.
If reports appearing in a section of the press are to be believed only eight pilgrims have booked themselves for road travel to Uttarakhand so far this year.
Compare this to the 14 lakhs who had visited Badrinath and Kedarnath last year.
The state of affairs can be gauged from the fact that the state-run Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam, which does the bulk of the bookings in the upper reaches of this small hill state and runs a number of guest houses at strategic positions has so far got only 294 reservations.
And this is for all the four temple locations, that is Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamnotri and Gangotri.
However, the state government, realizing how badly the economy of the upper reaches could be hit should the char dham yatra fail to draw the lakhs that it normally does every year, is going all out and making full efforts by roping in tour operators from various parts of the country and ensuring them that the safety of the pilgrims is paramount and all necessary inputs had been put in place.
Meanwhile the stakeholders in the upper reaches are concerned that should the char dham yatra be a pale shadow of its glorious past, they would stand to lose a lot.
Many of them who have somehow pooled in their resources and put up their units that were washed away or completely destroyed in last year’s tsunami, feel that only a large scale participation of the pilgrims in the yatra will help them meet some of their investments and expenses.
But with the chief minister Harish Rawat, now fully involved in the Lok sabha elections, with his wife, Renuka Rawat having been made the Congress candidate from Haridwar, the stake holders feel he may not be able to give the required time for putting the char dham yatra infrastructure in place, which may eventually tell upon the number of pilgrims participating this year.
A journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt was Editor, Hill Post (Uttarakhand).
Jagdish had worked with India’s leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications. A highly acclaimed journalist, he was a recipient of many awards
Jagdish Bhatt, aged 72, breathed his last on 28th August 2021 at his Dehradun residence.
You said it ! The surface communications to all the Char Dhams are in a pitiable state .It is amazing, that under such dismal conditions,the Secretary Tourism of the State has gone on record -not only to talk of Utopian improvements/arrangements all along but has even boasted about “Winter Tourism “.The reality is that except for some stretches of Rishikesh-Joshimath Road that have been improved,the road conditions all through are bad.I was talking yesterday to friends in Tehri, Uttarkashi ,Rudraprayag & Nandprayag & I was sad to hear what they told me about the ground realities.In the Lambagar stretch beyond Joshimath,I am told that in some places road does not even exist & there are boulders falling galore from the hill side.There is no point keeping people in dark.If the Char Dham Yatra has to commence as per schedule ,the Secretary Tourism must camp in a central place to oversee the progress of the roads & also ensure that all administrative & logistics facilities for the tourists are made shipshape.