Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Decision to commence Char Dham yatra this year needs to be reviewed

The fear that the Petitioners before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has indicated about the Char Dham Yatra in their recent writ petition titled Keshar Singh Panwar and others versus State of Uttarakhand and others, is coming true. In the said petition, the Petitioners have indicated that even after the natural calamities that hit the State of Uttarakhand during the Char Dham Yatra last year, there is no preparedness of the State of Uttarakhand and Union of India for commencing the Char Dham Yatra this year. The Petitioners in their writ petition in the Supreme Court also indicated that after the massive landslide and land-sinking that was caused in last year’s rain on the Char Dham Yatra route, there is no repair work or reconstruction work carried out in last one year. The debris in the river beds has also not been cleared and the rivers have not yet been re-channelized.

The petitioners have also indicated that the funds allocated for the reconstruction, repair and other redevelopment activities have not been adequately utilised. There have been mass scale corruption and also there are lapses at all levels including the level of central administration and state administration. For example, for reconstruction and repair of 52 different locations which were damaged during the last calamity, there is an allocation of 567 Crore available to the State of Uttarakhand. All such repair and reconstructions were supposed to be over before the onset of the monsoon this year. Out of this amount of 567 Crore, the State of Uttarakhand has released only 5.67 Crore (1% allocated funds) on 14.03.2014 for completing the projects in time. Similarly, the State Government promised to release 150 Crore to the Uttarkashi district alone for the reconstruction and other activities, but released only 220 Lakh.

Agencies like Border Roads organisation, which were given the responsibility of reconstruction of roads has also indicated paucity of funds by non allocation and release of funds to them for their activities. There is also no preparedness to evacuate the pilgrims from the valleys if any such calamity occurs this year. There is no deployment of army or any other specialised agency which has the expertise to evacuate persons in difficult conditions from difficult places.

Geological Survey of India and Indian Metrological Department have also indicated in their reports that the geological conditions and weather conditions are not such to continue the Char Dham Yatra in the valleys without preparations beforehand. These reports have been ignored by the governments before taking a decision to commence the Char Dham Yatra this year.

The recent news reports about stranding of the pilgrims at different places after the recent rainfalls and snowfalls in upper Himalayan regions and in Char Dham yatra routes clearly indicate the callous approach and hasty decision of the State and Central Governments to start the Char Dham Yatra this year without any preparation. The Char Dham Yatra has now been suspended but the pilgrims who are still stranded are yet to be rescued. Many of them are returning back without visiting holy shrines. The conditions may deteriorate if the rains start to pour in heavily. Monsoon is yet to strike and no one knows that how the weather would change and how it would hit the valley. I hope that there no mishap this year and for that it is high time that the Army or any other specialised agency is deputed immediately to take control of the situation and to avert any mishap this year.

The Supreme Court has issued notices in the writ petition filed by the Petitioners referred above to the Union of India and the State of Uttarakhand for 19.05.2014. I also hope that before the hearing, Union of India and the State of Uttarakhand come with a concrete plan to deal with this situation.

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