After being heavily criticised by all for its (mis)handling of the Uttarakhand tragedy, the government seems to have woken up from its slumber. In a belated move, the State’s Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna has now sought Rs 13,900 crore from the Centre for reconstruction and relief work in the flood-affected state. He expressed relief that some corporate houses and PSUs have also decided to pitch in to help the affected people.
Interestingly, the financial aid sought from the central government totals nearly half of the state’s budget of Rs.25,000 crore for 2013-14. At the cabinet meeting on the issue at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s residence in New Delhi, he said, “For rehabilitation of the damaged villages we require Rs 8,000 crore. Besides this, we want Rs 5,500 crore for rescue, relief, restoration and reconstruction. To meet the livestock loss Rs 100 crore, for damaged commercial properties Rs 100 crore and for constructing safe shelters in disaster-prone areas Rs 200 crore were required. We placed the demands before the committee and got a positive response from all members.”
He further said that organisations like ONGC, GAIL and Rotary International had sent their members for helping in rehabilitation work along with teams of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. There will be no recovery of loans for one year from the disaster-affected people. The Government has decided to take full responsibility for upbringing of the orphaned children. The electricity and water dues of drought-affected families has been waived from June 1, 2013. Further, assistance to students in affected areas is Rs 500 upto class X and Rs 4,000 for technical and degree colleges. He announced that many helipads would be constructed under the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. Shri Bahuguna also commented that Kedarnath alone would require at least Rs 500 crore from the relief package. He added that nearly 300 villages would be rehabilitated and 8,000 would be relocated.
The Congress has come under a lot of flak for its infighting during such a national calamity. Harish Rawat, Union water resources minister, who took stock of the devastation in his home state Uttarakhand, said “We (Congress) need to do a lot to regain the confidence of the people there.” Rawat, who does not get on well with Bahuguna, however said that there was no replacing Bahuguna in the light of his mishandling of the flood situation. Bahuguna had earlier defended his administration for their delayed response, saying the scale of the tragedy overawed them. A senior Congress leader said anonymously, “The image of the party has suffered a terrible blow. The message that has gone across is we cannot protect pilgrims.”
Reeling from attacks from all quarters for its inept handling of the Uttarakhand tragedy, the State government, led by Shri Vijay Bahuguna, along with Union rural development minister Jai Ram Ramesh, had set up a committee last month for rehabilitation and reconstruction of the devastated areas, specifically the Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Uttarkashi districts. Now, in a sudden U-turn, it has been learnt that the proposal has been scrapped. The Uttarakhand Chief Secretary Subhash Kumar said that the state disaster management authority (SDMA) that was formed by the previous government in 2007 would now be in charge of all relief work in the State. According to a news report, ‘a senior IAS officer said the government scrapped the proposal as the authority was being made into a transparent body accountable to central government with financial assistance sanctioned by the centre which state disaster management minister Yashpal Arya objected to, saying it should be brought under the disaster management department headed by him. He said following Arya’s insistence the government gave in’. The Cabinet would also assist in the government in converting the two-way 60-km Haridwar-Dehradun national highway into four-way highway. To help farmers in remote areas, the Government also decided to purchase crops of apples and potatoes from them in Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Uttarkashi districts.