Uttarakand Tragedy

A man-made Disaster

By Sameeksha Khettry

On June 17, 2013, Uttarakhand received more than 13 inches of rainfall, which is above the normal benchmark of 65.9 mm rainfall during a normal monsoon. The cloudburst caused heavy floods in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh respectively, creating more trouble for the residents of the States. June 17 was the wettest day during the month in over five decades for Dehradun. Heavy rainfall for four consecutive days as well as melting snow during summer aggravated the floods further. It is reported that warning regarding the heavy rains were not given wide publicity beforehand by the Government agencies as well as the India Meteorological Department, which led to huge loss of life and property.

The flash floods affected 12 out of the 13 districts in Uttarakhand. The 4 districts that were worst affected were Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh.

The deluge has washed away roads, bridges and other infrastructure. So far about 1000 deaths are reported and many are still reported missing. In Kedarnath alone about 75,000 pilgrims had been stranded due to landslides and flash floods.

At Rudrapryag, you can see natural beauty in its glory. Sometime back Rudraprayag was a part of the Chamoli and Tehri districts. However, in 1997, the Kedarnath valley and parts of district Tehri & Pauri were conjoined to form Rudraprayag as a new district.
The whole expanse of Rudraprayag is exalted with enormous splendor, many destinations of religious significance and glaciers. Named after Lord Shiva’s Rudra avatar, Rudraprayag has the fortune of being the confluence of rivers Alaknanda and Mandakini.

Known as the Abode of Gods, Chamoli in Uttarakhand is known for its scenic landscapes, pilgrimage centres and biodiversity hotspots. Chamoli was earlier known as Kedar-Khand.Situated at an altitude of 1308m above mean sea level, Chamoli is surrounded by the district of Uttarkashi in northwest, Pithoragarh in southwest, Almora in southeast, Rudraprayag in the southwest and Tehri Grahwal in the west.

Chamoli is important as several Hindu pilgrimage sites are located in the district.
Rudraprayag is known as the last stoppage point before pilgrimage treks to Kedarnath and Badrinath. Rudraprayag is dotted with temples which are significant from archeological as well as religious points of view.

Steps taken by the government and local community

Stepping up relief efforts, government deployed more aircraft to evacuate thousands stranded in rain-ravaged Uttarakhand even as Railways pitched in with free travel to enable those rescued to reach their hometowns. As many as 33,152 persons have been moved to safer areas in massive relief and rescue operations launched by the Central and state governments in the last few days to tackle the unprecedented situation caused by flash floods.The Air Force has deployed 13 more aircraft taking the number of aircraft for relief and rescue operations to 43," I&B Minister Manish Tewari told reporters here.

He said the Railways was also operating special trains from Dehradun to Delhi, Ambala and Lucknow to ferry stranded pilgrims and tourists.Tewari said the Railways along with the Uttarakhand government has also offered to send all stranded passengers free of cost to their respective destinations.The Indian Air Force has deployed its heavylift Mi-26 helicopters to transport fuel and heavy equipment required by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to clear roads closed due to landslide.The IAF has also activated advanced landing grounds at Dharasu and Gaucher and set up an airbridge to evacuate stranded persons.Besides the Army, personnel of the Sashastra Seema Bal, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, National Disaster Relief Force, BRO have been engaged in search, rescue and relief efforts.Efforts were also on to operationalise 207 mobile towers of 739 such installations in the three affected districts of Chamoli, Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi.

As many as 207 mobile towers in the three districts were knocked down by the fury of the floods.Petroleum Ministry has set up aircraft refuelling centres at Rampur, Shimla and Gaucher and efforts were being made to make available LPG cylinders to people in affected areas.Department of Telecom has also issued instructions to all telecom companies that the toll free public utility emergency numbers must be operational and accessible to customers in affected areas by this evening.Tewari also brushed aside suggestions that VVIPs touring the areas were creating hurdles in the rescue efforts being mounted using aircraft.

"Whatever is humanly possible is being done," Tewari said.

To provide relief to thousands of people affected by the disaster in Uttarakhand, several city-based NGOs and individuals came forward to help those who are still stuck there. City-based NGO Shiv Parvati Sewa Dal is sending relief in the form of food and water.

"We have around 3,500 members in the tricity and another 1,600 in other parts of the country from whom we receive a monthly subscription of Rs. 100. From the collected funds and donations made by residents and well wishers, we will be able to run this initiative successfully," said Rajinder Singh, president of the Sewa Dal. "We usually provide food and medical assistance to people going on Amarnath Yatra, but this time we decided to focus on those stuck in Uttarakhand," he added. "We are putting together food packets with each one containing 250 gm chana, 100 gm sweet chana, one packet of biscuit, one citrus flavored toffee and one 250 ml mineral water bottle. Apart from this, people are also donating warm clothes," said Singh. The NGO also plans to send pulses, rice and sugar once the people are safe and settle at army or government camps.

Faith betrayed: The Uttarakhand tragedy