Bhopal: Amid an emotional reunion of stranded pilgrims with their families, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Monday described the tragedy in rain-ravaged Uttarakhand as "terrible" and announced a relief of Rs five lakh to the children, who lost their parents in it.
"I have never seen a disaster of such a magnitude. It was terrible, much bigger than the Bhopal gas tragedy," Chouhan, who arrived at the airport along with 167 stranded pilgrims in a special plane, told reporters.
After landing, the Chief Minister along with his wife Sadhna, welcomed all the stranded pilgrims by offering them garlands and directed officials to ensure proper arrangements for their onward journey to their respective towns/villages by bus.
The state government will provide an assistance of Rs five lakh to those children who have lost both their parents, Chouhan said while narrating the horrific tale of Snehlata from Gwalior, who lost her mother and father in the tragedy.
"Snehlata`s story is very heart rending. She was constantly crying for her parents who were missing since the tragedy struck the hill state," Chouhan said.
"The state government will not only take care of Snehlata and her sister Ayushi for their entire life, but also look after other such children," he said.
Besides, the state government will also provide an immediate assistance of Rs 50,000 to the families of those missing and another Rs 1.5 lakh after a week if they were not found, by relaxing the mandatory seven-year period for providing relief in such cases.
A total of 741 are still missing from the state and of them, the government has a list of 593 pilgrims along with their photographs, Chouhan said, adding that efforts were on to identify the remaining missing persons.
The state has so far evacuated 1,301 pilgrims by special planes. One more flight will arrive tomorrow and another day after with stranded persons, he said. The Chief Minister said that besides the pilgrims from MP, the state`s rescue teams have also rescued 1,810 pilgrims belonging to other states without any discrimination.
The state government`s choppers rescued 292 pilgrims of Madhya Pradesh and 247 of other states, Chouhan said while praising the efforts of the two pilots, who, despite not having much experience of flying in difficult terrains, did a commendable job.
Chouhan said the rescue team has so far evacuated 5,330 stranded pilgrims and has made arrangements for food and other facilities for over 7,200 people in the relief camp, set up at Gayatri Pariwar`s premises in the hill state.
"There were many pilgrims who insisted on camping in relief camps in the hope that their missing relatives would soon join them and therefore we allowed them to remain there for some more time," he said.
The CM has urged his Uttarakhand counterpart to continue the relief and rescue operation till all the missing pilgrims are found.
The state government has also decided to adopt a village in Uttarakhand for rehabilitation, but the decision on which village would be adopted will be taken later on in consultation with the Uttarakhand government, he said.
In view of the magnitude of the tragedy, Chouhan has urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to declare it as a national calamity so that entire nation can pool resources for rebuilding the hill state, he said.
On queries regarding rebuilding of Kedarnath temple and allegations of negligence, the Chief Minister said this was not the time for doing politics on the issue.
However, he said that the Uttarakhand government should have remained more alert when it was warned about heavy rains by experts.