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Toll uncertain, Met dept says tragedy could have been avoided

Though in a different context, Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna has conceded the Chardham Yatra in the state was not regulated. In an interview to a news agency, Bahuguna has said the exact number of people dead or washed away may never be known. Estimates of
casualties in the worst natural disaster in the state is varying from several hundred to several thousand.

‘We will never know the exact number of those dead and the number of people who have been buried or washed away,’ Bahuguna told a news agency in an interview. One of the main criticisms of the Uttarakhand government has been unregulated movement of pilgrim traffic to the four Himalayan shrines and not heeding to the weather alerts issued by the state meteorological department.

With questions being raised whether large-scale deaths in Uttarakhand could have been averted, the MeT department on Sunday again reiterated that it had issued ‘timely’ warnings of heavy rains and landslides and had even suggested suspension of the Yatra.
However, the state government continued to claim there was not enough indication of a ‘crisis of this magnitude.’ State met director Anand Sharma said,

‘Our warnings cannot be so specific. Is heavy to very heavy rains coupled with landslides at places not enough to suggest that there is going to be crisis of this magnitude?’

‘We had prior information. But there was no visible indication of a crisis of this magnitude,’ minister for disaster mitigation and management Yashpal Arya was quoted by a agency report on the Met official’s statement. ‘Lakhs of people were in different places. What could the department have done? We did our best and we will keep doing it,’ Arya said indicating the government had no control over the Yatra.

State assembly speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal said on Saturday that the number of those killed could breach the 10,000 mark but the chief minister had said the figure was incorrect. Dismissing the charge that the disaster was man-made, the chief minister said, ‘What has happened in Kedarnath? There was a lake that overflowed. Mandakini changes its course, is that
man-made?’
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