Cover Story: Kedarnath Revisited
Even one year after the macabre dance of death in Kedar Valley in Uttarakhand, the local people are still paying homage to the unfortunate souls who washed away on the fateful day of June 16-17, 2013. On June 3 last, a group of Kedarnath temple priests offered 1001 oblations to the holy fire and offered prayers at Bhairavnath temple in Kedardham for salvation of all the departed souls. The memories of last year’s massive cloud-burst and ensuing trail of macabre deaths are so heavy on the psyche of local people here that a spate of such mournful prayers are being conducted in each temple in the entire Kedar valley.
|After bringing on the spot coverage of the natural disaster on 16th June 2013, Organiser brought a special issue on ‘Unsung Heroes’ who worked as saviours. The weekly is also tracking the developments in the region throughout the year. One year down the line, it is the right time to revisit the pious shrine and assess the ground realities.|
As soon as one starts journey from Rudraprayag, one finds half of an iron bridge hanging in the air, while the rest of it has fallen in the river. A momentary lapse by the speeding driver can plunge him deep into the valley thousands of feet below. At many places, the mountain roads without tar are built of dust and pebbles, as the original tarred roads have been breached away in the last year’s flood in the valley, and somewhere these uneven roads go up and down by several metres passing on the mountain spur like a coiled snake. On this so-called narrow road, only one vehicle can pass at a time.
“The state government is only making the people fool. It did nothing to restore the pilgrimage. What is being claimed is mostly on papers. Forget building roads, even all the routes are still not open. The day rains begin the entire connectivity will collapse in the region.”
Though the pilgrimage has resumed after one year, a vast mountainous regions leading to Kedarnath shrine are yet to get back their network of roads, bridges, system of drinking water, electricity and other essential facilities.
Also Read: Waiting for another disaster?
As for reconstruction of facilities and rehabilitation of the displaced people, restoring their lives to normalcy and safeguarding the holy shrine from the vagaries of river Mandakini, no work worth the name has been done by the state government during the past year. Most of the things remain as these were on the fateful day of the cloud-burst, which gives rise to the local people’s anger. Recently, a private news channel showed pictures of rotten corpses and skeletons lying in Kedarnath.
“All claims of development by the state government are hollow. The situation on the ground is certainly not normal. Still there are dead bodies of pilgrims even in Badrinath. The government is not allowing the local people to open the doors buildings there. The number of pilgrims has reduced drastically. There is no support from the government agencies. The pilgrims are not being allowed to even stay in Badrinath, which is normally regarded safe. Due to lack of alternate route, they have to walk 48 km to and fro, which is not possible even for a young pilgrim. We have been demanding white paper on the money received by it from different agencies. I say there is big scam in it as most money has gone into the pockets of Congress workers.”
—Ajay Bhatt, Leader of Opposition in Uttarakhand Assembly
According to reports 3429 FIRs were filed with police about missing people and the figure of the dead and missing stands at 10,162. In Uttarakhand, total FIRs lodged were 1993, and by all other states 1436, (West Bengal 21, Jharkhand 19, Orissa 8, Himachal Pradesh 3, Punjab 13, Andhra Pradesh 21, Karnataka 3, Tamil Nadu 1, J&K 3, Assam 1, Delhi 82, Maharashtra 71, Chattisgarh 8, Gujarat 54, Haryana 44, Bihar 38, Rajasthan 240, MP 206 and UP 600). Total number of cremations conducted by the Uttarakhand administration is 647, out of which only 71 corpses were identified, the rest others remained unidentified. Most other corpses were never cremated either, on which vultures, kites and other wild animals feasted. President Sri Kedarnath Tirath Purohit Sabha Shri Shankar Prasad Bagwari asserted that pilgrims in far greater number have died in the disaster, besides the Indian pilgrims, more than one thousand Nepali devotees from Kathmandu’s Pashupatinath temple were present in the Holy Shrine on the fateful day, who got no mention in the police report. The total number of the dead in is said to be exceeding to 50,000 or even more.
As for reconstruction of facilities and rehabilitation of the displaced people, restoring their lives to normalcy, no work worth the name has been done by the state government during the past year. Most of the things remain as they were on the fateful day of the cloud-burst and have given rise to local people’s anger.
Though the government claims that the road leading to Kedarnath has been completed up to Linchauli, 22 kms short of Kedarnath Shrine; it is a bumpy ride all the way from Rudraprayag to Linchauli, a stretch of 176 kms. From Linchauli to Gaurikund, it is a difficult jeep ride, and from Gaurikund to the Holy Shrine, it is an arduous and steep trek on foot. This trek is the most difficult and steep part of Chardham yatra. However, before undertaking of pilgrimage, a medical check-up has been made mandatory for blood-pressure and asthma report card, besides the biometric registration, a necessity for identification in case of pilgrim’s eventual death. The centres of biometric registrations and medical check-up have been set up at Narsen (Roorkie), Hardwar, Rishikesh, Dobata, Chinyalisond, Guptakashi, Kedarnath Dham, Pakhi, and Govind Ghat being run jointly by Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam and Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board.
There is an obvious impact of these lapses on the pilgrimage. “The government has failed to restore the trust of the pilgrims with regard to security and infrastructure. That is why they are not collecting strength to come on pilgrimage. The drastic fall in the number of pilgrims prove it. Fact is that innumerable decomposed bodies are being recovered everyday. The government did not even show humanity to just perform their last rites. Nothing can be expected from this government,” says Dev Prakash Semwal of Korkhi Fata while talking to Organiser.
Shri Beni Prasad Poorvanchi of Fata however says that some efforts of restoring infrastructure began, but no work is seen complete. “The biggest challenge today is to diver the flow of Mandakini to her original route, as she has merged into the Saraswati. But if the work is not complete before the rains it could prove disastrous again,” he said. Besides the state’s PWD, Indian Military’s arm Border Road Organisation (BRO) is also responsible for maintenance of these roads leading to Badrinath and Kedarnath, but for past many months the state government has been enmeshed in a skirmish with the BRO for handing over its rights to the PWD. It is anybody’s guess why the quality of the roads built and maintained by the PWD is low, while those built and maintained by the BRO are far better. For past many months, the BRO has been starved of funds, which always takes up difficult assignments. An official told the Organiser, “We’ve lost three or four crucial months when the dry season could have helped the construction works.”
Due to the insensitivity of the administration number of pilgrims to the pious Dham has gone down drastically. According to unofficial estimates it is only 3% of the total pilgrims usually visit the shrine. All over the atmosphere is still gloomy. Economy is still hampered. Besides social and psychological shock, political and economic repercussions of the tragedy are imprinted everywhere. Restoring the sanctity of the temple while addressing environmental concerns and evolving developmental model as per the local needs still looks a long way to go in the holy land.
-Arvind Kumar after visiting the route of Kedarnath