The natural disaster and heavy devastation of June 16th has left many people dead, homeless and stranded. Rescuing people to a secure place was the biggest challenge. This challenging task was accepted by voluntary organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Many tasks are being done by the Swyamsevaks to be in the forefront of the rescue operation. RSS Sah Sarkaryawah Dr Krishna Gopal who played a key role in relief operations by personally visiting the relief operations and giving necessary directions was in Kathmandu for a visit. During his Kathmandu visit he talked to our Kathmandu representative Rakesh Mishra. Excerpts:
Question- You people have tried to provide all possible help to the victims of the natural calamity of Uttarakhand. How is the situation there in geographical and humanitarian terms?
Answer- The recent calamity of Uttarakhand is an unparalleled happening in history. After looking at the heartrending situation there after June 16th and 17th it was clear that tens of thousands people would have died here. If government had been active on time many lives would have been saved and many people would not be stranded. The army and ITBP did a good job by risking their own lives to rescue the pilgrims. Along with them our Swayamsevaks also did appreciable work risking their lives. All the residential areas near Kedarnath were washed away in floods. Those who survived took refuge in the mountains; for many days it wasn’t possible to evacuate them. Our swayamsevaks courageously did the task of rescuing people at the time of such a tettible natural calamity.
Question- During that destructive natural calamity what relief work did Swayamsevaks do?
Answer- At the starting 3-4 kinds of relief work were needed to be done. But the most important task was to rescue the pilgrims who were stranded. They were staying in the forest at God’s mercy. Finding and safely evacuating them was not easy. It was after many days that pilgrims were evacuated by helicopters. Helicopter were not able to reach near the stranded pilgrims. The already exhausted and starving people, including old ones and children, had to walk miles to reach helicopters or helipads. They were physically unable to walk for miles. Our Swayamsevaks carried such people on their shoulders and walked for miles to bring them to helicopters. The second task done was of providing relief material to the stranded pilgrims. Local people were also stranded. Swayamsevaks reached the stranded people with relief material. In dense forests or mountains where pilgrims were stranded, Swayamsevaks walked for miles to provide them relief material.
Third, on the way there were some big centres, big schools like in Maneri we have a huge and well maintained central school and hostel. On the very first day, June 17th, four thousand people were provided food. Our people managed facilities to help them stay. That school and hostel of ours is on the bank of Bhagirathi, hence for all the pilgrims who were coming from Gangotri it became a place to stay. The major places of Haridwar, Dehradun and Hrishikesh where the pilgrims were coming and staying, our Swayamsevaks arranged for their food and lodging. Also, helpline numbers were started to spread news and information all over the country. The relatives of stranded pilgrims were informed about them. At least there were thousand such people who were helped by Swayamsevaks in talking to their relatives.
Question- Can you please tell how many Swayamsevaks took active participation in this social service?
Answer- It’s hard to tell the exact number of the Swayamsevaks active in the relief work because the work is still continuing at many places. The work is being done in very remote areas too. It’s not possible to connect to these places through phones. Still my estimate is at least two thousand Swayamsevaks and different workers of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Vidya Bharti, etc. are active in this work.
Question- What was the reaction of people towards the rescue work done by Sangh and Swayamsevaks?
Answer- People have become well aware of the fact that other than army personnel, ITBP and Swayamsevaks there was no one else for the relief work. There was nothing like administration. Administration was not even able to provide a base or plan for evacuating the stranded pilgrims or providing them with the relief material. Because our schools are run by the Swayamsevaks and they have many shakhas hence the swayamsevaks did good relief work by coordinating with one another. People are impressed by the work done by swayamsevaks. Thousands of calls from many different and far off areas have come to congratulate them. The pilgrims who have safely reached their homes, they have also appreciated our work. Hence we can say that the local people, pilgrims and common people have seen our relief work and heartily appreciated it.
Question- How much time is expected to bring the flood affected areas and daily life of people back to normal?
Answer- Before thinking about the expected time needed to bring things back to normal here we need to think that the huge yatra that is carried here and the lakhs of people that come, how will they be provided with safety? Roads need to be made in such a way that they do not wash away again. Safe places need to be made for the lodging of pilgrims. Good guest houses need to be made. Dharmashalas need to be built so that lakhs of pilgrims can stay there in times of need. Well-equipped hospitals need to be made so that if any pilgrim falls sick then medical facilities can be provided to him within no time.
Question- Have Swayamsevkas made up their mind of continuing the relief works in the affected areas? If so, then which are those areas that they have chosen for the rehabilitation?
Answer- Our Swayamsevaks have felt that through our centres it is easy to provide help to the affected and are effective hence other centres must be opened at other areas so that in future also our swayamsevaks can provide help to the affected. That means our swayamsevaks want to see a few new and developed centers so that the pilgrims can get the lodging facilities there. When in need they can get food and security there.
Question- Could anything have been done to prevent the loss and save the victims?
Answer- In 2004 scientists told that the lake above can break. Since it’s a natural lake so anytime due to heavy rains the glacier above can move; due to the huge pressure, Gandhi Sarovar can break. This was published in the newspapers too. Government was well aware that any such disaster can happen. Secondly, there’s a huge area near the river where there should not be any construction work; but the construction work is done in such areas where it’s completely prohibited and where pilgrims stay. That’s the reason when such calamities occur such dharamshalas and guest houses get washed away. In future, during construction and development, care must be taken of the local geography and the ecology of rivers. After every 20-25 years, rivers clean themselves.
The most important thing is in the name of development government has given so much liberty to a few people that the whole forests have been denuded of trees. Dense forests and huge trees control soil erosion. Since they are removed, all the waste material falls in rivers. Government must think over that where forests are removed there trees must be planted again. It might be a time consuming task but the vision must be this only.
Question- In the end please tell us any inspirational things done by swayamsevaks during the relief work.
Answer- Our swayamsevaks risked their own lives to save the lives of the stranded pilgrims. A huge number of people would have died if swayamsevaks wouldn’t have reached them. More than one lakh people were given food. Our swayamsevaks were the first to start all this. The most important thing is that the person who first gave the news of this tragedy to the Tourism Department was our swayamsevak, Bhupendra Singh, a pilot. On June 17th he took pilgrims to Kedarnath where he saw this disaster and informed the Secretary of Tourism Department Shri Rakesh Sharma. This proves how active our swayamsevaks are. The spirit of our swayamsevaks has been really inspiring.