While thousands of pilgrims were being washed away with rising rivers – Alaknanda and Bhagirathi– the Uttarakhand and union governments were yet to rise from their slumbers. While the officials and ministers of other state governments and workers of voluntary organisations like RSS were busy rescuing the stranded people, Congress Party branded it a political move, and its leaders were busy calculating the brownie points. Only when the media raised the issue to a higher pitch, the Congress leaders did shake off their sluggishness. But still they failed due to lack of coordination between the Centre and the State.
But the rescue operation carried out by armed forces touched everyone. Despite facing many odds at every step including the non-availability of local administration, the brave jawans from Indian Army, Air Force, Navy, ITBP and Border Road Organisation silently continued with the Herculean tasks of rescuing more than one lakh stranded pilgrims, opening roads and offering food to the victims. By June 28 the Army had cleared many major roads (except Joshimath-Badrinath, Rudraprayag-Gaurikund and Uttarkashi-Gangotri) and succeeded in rescuing over one lakh stranded people. In fact, army personnel are the unambiguous heroes of this operation. Hats off to them! Whole nation salutes their courage, valour, determination, fighting spirit, timely action and above all their supreme sacrifice. Despite chopper tragedy and death of 20 jawans, the relief operation continued with even more vigour and determination.
With more than 45 aircraft and 11 choppers involved, it was India’s largest ever rescue and relief operation conducted by the Air Force. In all 60 helicopters were in service, ferrying people and air-dropping food and other supplies. Nearly 10,000 army and paramilitary personnel were on the ground. The army not only launched an exclusive website for this operation, but also built an iron bridge to evacuate the victims. Those who were rescued rightly called them ‘devdoots in devbhoomi’. The rescued people said they would have died, but for sudden appearance of army made a difference.
Height of Negligence and Inefficiency
The last two weeks were indeed disturbing for the whole nation, as people from almost all states were trapped in Uttarakhand and had fallen victim to the worst tragedy of the country. Thousands had died, over one lakh stranded and scores of still missing. As is the tradition, the entire nation turned up with relief and help, but the insensitivity of the local administration and their political patrons has shocked everyone. People are crying for ration, medicine, transport; and everything is available, but all this can’t reach them due to mis-management of Uttarakhand government.
What baffles is the report that the truckloads of support material sent by Sonia Gandhi is returning from Rishikesh, Haridwar and Dehradun. Some drivers were not given sufficient money for fuel and other expenses. And some say they do not know whom to hand over the material. There was no coordination even between the State and the Centre.
The Army troops landed in Kedarnath for rescue but the local administration was missing to fulfill the primary formalities like making panchnama and taking DNA samples of the dead. Everyone present on the spot returned shocked by the magnitude of the human suffering and the slackness of government machinery in the face of such a formidable crisis. Undoubtedly, if the state machinery acted responsibly the casualties would have been low. The army has acted commendably, but the task ahead is grueling. The dead bodies are rotting and the water of rivers and lakes has reportedly become contaminated.
Even though almost two weeks have passed, the state government is not able to provide the exact number of affected villages, dead or cremated people, missing persons and the rescued ones. When the state government cannot coordinate with its own officials, how can we expect it to coordinate with the other states for rescue operations or rehabilitation? The government announced Rs 2000 per day to every stranded person, but none was paid this amount. Similarly, the state owned buses, and the railways were also to ferry the victims free of cost but people were charged even more than the actual fare. All this proves that Uttarakhand Government miserably failed on all fronts—rescue, relief and providing timely help to the affected people. It also puts a question mark over the adequate use of relief material and rehabilitation work, as the state is going to receive more than 1500 crore rupees from different agencies.
The union government can also not be exonerated as it is equally responsible. They took the national calamity very casually and their ‘heir apparent’ was celebrating his birthday abroad. It was basically due to the inefficiency of both the state and central governments that the leaders and officials from different states rushed to rescue their people. But instead of helping them the Congress leaders politicised and criticised their move. Undesirable scenes were created even in front of TV cameras. All this tarnished the image of the state which mostly survives on tourism. Calamities like this must be fought jointly and any help from any quarter should be welcome.