"-- Indo-Asian News Service"
By Mohit Dubey

Dehradun/Lucknow, June 15 - Time, it is said, is a great healer. For the hundreds of villagers in Uttarakhand who lost their homes and livelihoods in the flash floods last June 16 and for the thousands all over the country whose loved ones were washed away by the swirling waters, the passage of time has brought no solace. It has, however, added to their pain and anguish for nothing has changed in the hill state, touted as Gods Own Land.

Last year when a glacier melted right behind the Kedarnath shrine and claimed thousands of lives, a lot was promised by the government to ensure more safety, lesser environmental damage and prompt rescue of those trapped in the difficult terrain between the route of the Char Dham Yatra - Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. Locals rue nothing has changed.

The revival of the tourism sector has been slow, the rehabilitation of villages has been tardy and so has been the case with disbursement of ex-gratia to those who perished in the calamity. Uttarakhand government officials admit that while more than 7,000 people had died or went missing, never to be found, in the June 16-17 calamity last year, ex-gratia has been given to only 4,000-odd. Uttar Pradesh government officials say the 1,150 people from the state had gone on the 'Char Dham Yatra' on the ill-fated dates had either died or went missing.

Of these, the Uttarakhand government has sent death certificates of 850 people to the Uttar Pradesh government and now officials are still working on the modalities of disbursement of the ex-gratia amount of Rs 5.50 lakh per person as announed by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. Officials said the chief minister had personally monitored the donation-collecting exercise and the relief measures for the people of Uttarakhand and had given standing instructions for expediting the financial assistance process. The system, however, seems unyielding.

Of the people whose death certificates have been received by the state government, paperwork is under way and matching of documents is on and very soon the schedule of the ex-gratia payments would be announced, Special Secretary Rakesh Chandra had told IANS some time back. After completing the formalities like checking of bona fides and identifying the next of kin, 850 death certificates have been handed over to the Uttar Pradesh government while 300 are in the pipeline.

The tragedy continues to haunt the devout and it is not surprising that in the first 10 days of the Yatra, while 635,000 people had come last year, the number has barely touched 100,000 this year, an official said.

The landslides and downpour on the Kedarnath-Badrinath route this year too stranded pilgrims who braved their fear and undertook the trek. The facilities at base camps are not reassuring enough, said a devotee from Bithoor in Kanpur who has just returned after completing a trip to Kedarnath.

Most of the roads that were washed away in the disaster are far from being relaid and whatever work the Indian Army's Central Command did in the aftermath of the floods has not been completed at many places. Many villages marooned in the floods still seek financial help and rue that their ration cards and other papers are yet to be made available.

At many places, schools continue to function in the open. The change of guard in Uttarakhand from Vijay Bahuguna to Harish Rawat has also taken its toll on rehabilitation.

All the guesthouses around the Kedranath shrine were devastated. After a gap of 86 days, proper puja could be held at the temple, one of the 12 jyotirlingas. The Uttarakhand government last July said it was exploring the possibility of constructing a ropeway to the Kedarnath shrine in the coming future but not much headway has been made. The Indian Army had worked on a new route to the Kedarnath Shrine during the calamity and work was to be taken up on a concrete basis an official said, but nothing happened so far.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at [email protected])

-- Indo-Asian News Service

md/vm/tb


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