Who is responsible for the loss of so many
innocent lives in Uttarakhand?
Uttarakhand tragedy claimed the lives of about 15,000 people. Over one lakh were rescued by the army, ITBP jawans and voluntary organisations. Those pilgrims who lost their near and dear ones back with tears in eyes, and those locals who lost their earning members are gradually recovering. But the question remains who is guilty of such a big loss of human lives? Should a responsibility not be fixed for this offence? Here are some facts, which need the nation’s attention:
p The tragedy stroke on June 15-16 night, but the government machinery swung into action only on June 18. This delay of two days proved very costly for the stranded pilgrims and also those burried under the debris. Many lives could have been saved if the rescue operation began early.
p State’s Disaster Management department had identified 233 villages as sensitive. The shifting of these villages was also proposed. But the work remained pending as the state government failed to take any decision. About two years back, the state government had started imparting training to the villagers at Nyaya Panchayat level in sensitive areas like Uttarkashi, Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Bageshwar, Nainital, Almora, Dehradun, etc. for relief and rescue work. A total of 4425 people in 177 Nyaya Panchayats were imparted training. But during this tragedy none of them was seen working in the affected areas. This raises question over the entire training programme.
p Uttarakhand Governor Dr Aziz Qureshi questioned the preparations of the Disaster Management publicly on June 25. He went on to suggest an enquiry against the officers responsible and also to book them accordingly.
p Congress MLA from Kedarnath Smt Shaila Rani Rawat also publicly expressed displeasure over the failures of the state government in relief and rescue activities in Kedarnath region. She protested in front of the Chief Minister when he visited there. Local people also shouted slogans against the Chief Minister. Speaker of State Assembly Shri Govind Singh Kunjwal also publicly criticised the functioning of state government.
p The government had set up a control room in Secretariat, but whenever contacted no satisfactory information was provided to the people from there.
p The state government claimed to impose a ban on the entry of VIPs during the rescue operation. Many VIPs including Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi were not permitted to land there. But the very next day on June 24, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi was not only allowed to land but also the ITBP guest house was exclusively vacated for his comfort. At the time when the ITBP jawans involved in the rescue operation and also the rescued people needed the guest house the most, it was vacated for Rahul Gandhi.
p Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had sufficient time to inaugurate a railway tunnel in Kashmir on June 24, but he found no time to visit the disaster affected people of Uttarakhand. Though, he visited there later, till then everything was under control.
p It was clear in the initial days itself that the death toll could be in thousands. But the government repeatedly lied about it. After many days it confirmed only 71 deaths. It was because it did not have correct information about the entire disaster and rescue activities. The unofficial figure of death in this tragedy is said to be from 10 to 15 thousand.
p On December 18, 2012 Union Ministry of Environment and Forests issued a notification declaring 4179 sq. km area of Uttarkashi eco-sensitive zones. But the notification could not be implemented due to opposition by the state government. It shows how the state government compromised with the national interests. The state government then argued that the proposal was against ‘state’s interests’. If the proposal was implemented, the lives of many people could have been saved. If it was implemented the construction activities would have been curbed and the number of pilgrims or tourists was also restricted.
p There was also a proposal to curb hydro power projects. But no attention was paid to it. Rather, the Chief Minister complained the Prime Minister against it and ensured that no hydro power project is halted.
p After the aerial survey, when Chief Minister reached Delhi, the people shouted slogans against him. They said Dhikkar Hai Is Sarkar Ko, Ham Jiveet Hain to Sena Ki Badolat. When the failures of the state government were exposed on every front and there was criticism from everywhere, the Supreme Court intervened and directed Union Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth to monitor the relief and rescue operation.
p The Metrological Department on June 15 had warned of heavy rains for next 72 hours. But nobody took that warning seriously. On June 16, 360 ml. rain was recorded in Kedarnath due to cloud burst. Even then the government failed to gauge the seriousness of the tragedy. Kedarnath was ruined completely on June 16 itself, but the government could know about it only on June 18. Soon after getting the information, the Central government, Army, ITBP and NGOs started rescue operation, but the government was nowhere in the picture. The regular report dispatched to the central government on June 16 also finds no mention of the tragedy. It proves the government was unaware of it.
p There was a demand for gum boots for the jawans involved in the rescue operation. But those boots could reach there only before several hours of closing the operation. Similarly, the wireless sets needed for the operation reached Dehradun on June 18. They did not reach Kedarnath and Rudraprayag till last day of the operation.
p The state government was provided about three dozen helicopters by Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Governments (6), some private companies (20) and the Air Force (12). But it did not use its own helicopters for the rescue work. Only the ministers and VIPs travelled by it.
p A team of experts came from Gujarat for finding the dead bodies buried under debris. But that team was halted in Dehradun for many days without any reason. The team members repeatedly told the officials that they are expert in searching the dead bodies, as they had done it during Gujarat earthquakes, but they were not allowed to go to the affected areas. When they insisted, they were taken to Rudraprayag. But there too they were halted for many days. If they had reached Kedarnath first day itself, many lives could have been saved from the debris.
p In order to ensure that no epidemic spread in the affected areas, around 26,000 kg bleaching powder was brought by the health department. But that remained dumped at the helipad itself and hardly 60 kg was sent to Kedarnath.
p The coordination between the state and central governments remained very poor throughout the tragedy. The Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde himself publicly admitted it. He also questioned the preparedness of state disaster management and functioning of the state government. He directed the government to act on ‘do or die’ basis. The pilgrims rescued by the army were so much angry that whenever they reached airport they shouted anti-government slogans.
p When the entire nation was busy in sending relief material to Uttarakhand, Congress yuvaraj Rahul Gandhi was celebrating his birthday abroad. He left for abroad on June 17, after the news of the calamity spread everywhere.
p The central government was to dispatch a team of doctors for the affected areas. But the team did not reach there even after the rescue operation was over.
p The entire focus was on rescuing the alive pilgrims. Nobody thought of searching those buried under the debris. This work could have been done with the help of life detectors. But nobody thought of using it during the rescue operation.