Dehra Dun : With over 50 skeletal remains having been found since June 11 in the Kedranath region that bore the brunt of the ‘Himalayan Tsunami’ last year, question marks are being raised on the botched up rescue and relief operations that were undertaken by the Vijay Bahuguna led Congress government in Uttarakhand at the time.
It is also perhaps why despite repeated advertisements by the state government appealing to pilgrims from all over the country to undertake the char dhaam yatra and claiming that systems had been put in place to avoid another tragedy, it was not able to restore the confidence of the masses in undertaking the yatra this year.
This is perhaps why the number of pilgrims visiting the four shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamnotri and Gangotri in the first month of the yatra this season has just been a fraction of what it was during the same period last year. And the worst to have been hit are the stake holders, specially the number of hotel and dhaba owners, who depend heavily upon the pilgrims for meeting their annual expenses.
But what is appalling is the fact that the people whose skeletal remains were found had died of cold and starvation at the places where they had taken refuge from the rains and swirling waters of the Mandakini. That they waited hoping against hope that help would be coming their way and rescue teams would save them from their suffering, but nothing of the sort happened.
There have been a number of stories about the rescue and relief operations that were undertaken by the state government. It is an open secret that helicopter sorties went to the places where the pilgrims were stranded with the names of those having the right connections at the right places and rather than air lifting the needy, aged, women and children first the VIP connected got the priority.
One can understand that in a tragedy of the magnitude of the June 16-17 last year floods in the Kedarnath region, the amount of work that was needed to be done was mind boggling as lakhs of pilgrims who were stranded needed tp be evacuated. There were alo the locals whose houses had been badly damaged and villages cut off that had to be provided with shelter and food.
But in this grim tragedy with cries of help coming from all over, there was also need to think of those who had made a frantic bid to save themselves from the swirling waters. It was natural that they must have gone upwards in the mountainous terrain and going down would have taken them to the river which they must have thought best to avoid.
Perhaps teams from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, the army and the ITBP could have been asked to fan out in the upper reaches to locate such pilgrims who may have taken shelter in the upper reaches. It was but natural and new to the terrain and the region, these people lost their way and just waited for the rescue teams.
The special task force team that was constituted now to search for more skeletal remains, could have been constituted at the time of the tragedy and its members would have found those taking shelter at the heights and making frantic efforts to reach where they could be saved from. But the deluge only added to their problems as almost everything was washed away.
Meanwhile the Uttarakhand High Court in a PIL filed before it has directed the state government to ensure that the last rites of the remains are undertaken and a DNA is also conducted so that the remains can be identified.