Zee Media Bureau
New Delhi/Dehradun: With the Uttarakhand government declaring the entire 14 kilometere trek route from Guarikund to Kedarnath out of bounds for everyone except the rescue workers, worst fears on the number of dead appear to be coming true.
The government has claimed that the blanket ban on entry to the area has been imposed to prevent the spread of epidemic as hundreds of bodies are said to be lying in the open along the route, especially in Rambada and Kedarnath town. However, reports claimed that the no entry rule has been put in place to prevent news about the actual number of dead getting out.
Officially too there is little clarity over the number of people killed in the disaster with Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna saying it may be beyond 1,000 and state Assembly Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal claiming the figure may cross the 10,000 mark.
The June 16-17 ‘Himalayan Tsunami’ has left a trail of destruction of unimaginable magnitude. While the believers are certain that the wrath of Dhari Devi was the reason Mandakini, Alaknanda and Bhagirathi transformed into rivers of death and destruction, others have blamed excessive human intervention in the ecologically sensitive zone.
The truth may be somewhere in between - nature’s backlash (God in action for some) due to unbridled exploitation of natural resources by mortals seems to be the most plausible reason for the disaster.
Kedarnath, from being an inaccessible valley traversed only by the most resolute of Shiv Bhakhts, had transformed into a town that swarmed with thousands of pilgrims during the Char Dham season - before it was washed off, almost completely.
The pictures taken by NASA`s Landsat 8 satellite on 23 June 2013, when compared with old National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) images provided by the Uttarakhand Space Application Centre, show the scope of damage in the Mandakani valley.
The majestic Kedarnath temple is still standing but it is now the lone structure left unharmed by the surging waters which had come crashing down from the Charubari Lake glacier. The pictures taken after the flash floods show that the streams on two sides of the river had grown broader with the emergence of a third stream behind the temple.
As per a report prepared by the NRSC, 80% of the trekking route from Gaurikund to Kedarnath has been washed out. The tiny hamlet of Rambara – in between Guarikund and Kedarnath – bore the brunt of Mandakini’s anger. Owing to the steep gradient fall, the velocity of the debris flow was very high from Kedarnath to Rambara, washing away the village and hundreds of people.
Shocking details have emerged about the complete lack of infrastructure that, if present, would have had minimised the destruction. While some reports claimed that Kedarnath even lacked a rain gauge, the fact remains that the weather department was found wanting when it came to predicting the intensity of the extreme weather conditions accurately. Not to be forgotten is another fact that Met dept’s warning of very heavy rains in the region was largely ignored by the government.
Lack of infrastructure coupled with the growing number of pilgrims - 25 million tourists, almost two-and-a-half times Uttarakhand`s entire population of 10.8 million – is surely, a disaster was waiting to happen.
The story of exploitation of the fragile ecosystem is not just about houses, shops and hotels that were recklessly built by digging into the hills or on the flood plains of rivers but also of the grand plan to build hundreds of dams on Mandakini, Alakananda and Bhagiathi without due diligence.
And one day the river decided it was time to reclaim her territory. It was the day when nature pressed the ‘RESET’ button.