Millennium Post

A year after: Fear and foreboding in Kedar valley

A year after: Fear and foreboding in Kedar valley
A year after the devastation which hit the Mandakini Valley and Kernath temple town in the higher echelons of Himalayas, tell-tale signs of the tragedy can be witnessed everywhere. Uttarakhand government had sought a relief package of Rs 21,000 crores for reconstruction of damaged roads, bridges and building infrastructure.  But the state government got only Rs 7, 346 crore from the central government. After the disaster, then chief minister Vijay Bahuguna had ordered a ban on all construction along the river banks in the state.

But forget about new construction, no reconstruction work has been undertaken so far to rehabilitate the damaged public and commercial buildings in Kedarnath valley. Tourists are sleeping in pre-fabricated huts and tents. Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) is providing free meal.
Many disaster-victims of Narayanbagad and Tharali block in Chamoli are still waiting for compensation. Many families of disaster victims in UP recently got the death certificates from Uttarakhand government. Due to apathetic attitude of the state, many organisations including many Opposition parties have demanded a white paper on the rehabilitation work in disaster-hit areas.
Nearly 10 lakh people lost their sources of livelihood directly or indirectly along the Char Dham yatra routes.  Last year, there were 20,000 eateries dotted on the 14-km trek route in Kedarnath. Currently, at Jungle Chatti, there are just two eateries, and few shops are operating at Gaurikund.
Haridwar MP Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank said, ‘Soon after the tragedy at Kedarnath, the state government put a blanket ban on the movement of locals/outsiders in the Kedar valley.

 People were not allowed to search for their missing relatives and near and dear ones. Many stranded tourists died due to hunger and thirst. If the state government had allowed massive search operations at that time, many lives would had been saved.’

This year, Char Dham Yatra pilgrimage started on time on 2 May with biometric registration of every tourist.  In spite of high publicity by the state tourism department, the tourist turnout has been low as people are reluctant to visit Uttarakhand. Fear factor has not vanished from the minds of potential tourists.

Madhav Karnataki, a hotel owner in Kedarnath, said, ‘It will take years to revive the hotel industry in Kedarnath. Locals have not come out from the shock of last year’s devastation. The tourist traffic is just not there.’

However, state chief minister Harish Rawat has claimed that nearly 3 lakh pilgrims and tourists from various states have visited pilgrim centers so far in this tourist season. The opposition says this is an exaggerated figure. The actual figure ranges between 25,000 to 40,000.
‘We started char dham yatra on time in spite of various hurdles. The negative publicity hampers the ongoing pilgrimage,’ said Kedarnath legislature Shailrani Rawat.

A local shop-keeper said, ‘In Badrinath, where 15 000 tourists used to come in a day, there are just 1000-1500 tourists a day. Now, people want to leave this place as early as possible after paying obeisance to Lord Vishnu. This attitude has paralysed the local business community.’  
Noted environmentalist Sunderlal Bahuguna told Millennium Post, ‘We should learn to pay respect to nature. Construction of dams, blasting of mountains to make roads and mining in river beds is tampering with the natural environment of Uttarakhand hills. We need to have a sustainable development model in our hills to save our environment from further deterioration.’
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