Zee Media Bureau
Dehradun: Rattled by the Himalayan tsunami that ravaged Uttarakhand, the state government on Monday clamped a blanket ban on construction of houses and commercial establishments along river banks and announced setting up of a statutory body for development of flood-hit areas.
In Delhi, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said financial aid will be sought from multilateral bodies like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for reconstruction and rehabilitation of the devastated areas in Uttarakhand.
Facing flak for the mushrooming illegal constructions on river banks, many of them used as hotels and tourist lodges, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna ordered a blanket ban on construction of houses and commercial establishments in such areas.
Unveiling a slew of steps being taken at a press conference here, he said a Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority, to be chaired by him, will be set up to look at, among other things, safeguards required to face challenges that may arise in coming decades.
Amid conflicting figures of the death toll in the calamity, the chief minister said he would prefer not to quantify a figure. "Police officials who have visited the affected areas sat 500-600 bodies are visible, many may be lying underneeath heaps of debris and many reported missing are yet to be found," he said.
While the Uttarakhand Assembly Speaker claimed that the number of dead may touch 10,000, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has pegged it at 900 and over 3,000 missing while the National Disaster Management Authority has a lower figure of 580.
After a preliminary assessment of the extent of the collosal tragedy, the Uttarakhand Cabinet today decided to revise the norms for relief and rehabilitation by widening the ambit of beneficiaries ranging from small kiosks to `dhabas` to big hotels.
"Everyone who suffered losses from owners of small kiosks to hotels will be given compensation," Bahuguna said.
The CM, while addressing a press conference, said that higher rate of compensation will be given for sugarcane farmers, adding, “Rs 500 each will be given to students in the affected families.”
The CM added, “Free ration will be given to villages where connectivity has not been restored yet.”
Power bills have been waived off for affected families.
On day 16 of the calamity, only 36 bodies have been disposed of in the worst-hit Kedarnath shrine area, officials said.
Over 200 pilgrims and locals were evacuated from the flood-hit areas where another 680 still remained stranded.
Despite bad weather at places including Dehradun, chopper operations began this morning in Chamoli district to evacuate about 300 pilgrims and 600 locals from Badrinath shrine to Joshimath.
Late tonight, officials said rescue operations have neared their end with 902 people being evacuated from Badrinath. About 150 remain to be moved out.
Authorities in Chamoli said by 4.30 this evening a total of 902 people including pilgrims and locals were evacuated from the Himalayan shrine to Joshimath by air and road routes from where they will be brought further down.
Those remaining at the shrine are likely to be evacuated tomorrow, they said adding the operation may be over by tomorrow after if the weather permits.
A 200-member team of medical experts, trained police personnel and support staff have been sent to the affected areas to help extricate bodies lying under debris.
With bodies of humans and animals like mules lying all over the area, a foul smell hangs in the air, making it difficult for those sent to clear the debris stay there for long.
Some of the medical experts, who had been sent to Kedarnath to take the DNA samples of the bodies there, have returned after falling sick.
"The frequently changing weather with intermittent rains is another hurdle.We are going about the cremation process slowly," DIG Sanjay Gunjyal, who is supervising the exercise, said.
Despite the odds being faced by the administration in transporting relief material to affected people with around 50 per cent of the roads still damaged, free of cost foodgrains and other essential commodities are being provided to the affected villages cut-off from the roads in helicopters, said an official statement.
Kerosene is also being made available to the people of affected areas on subsidised rates.
Out of the 4200 cut-off of villages or habitations, 2865 have been restored so far, it said.
Meanwhile, the Chief Secretaries of various states concerned have been asked to verify the list and if the lost people are not traced in a month they will be declared dead.
The Union Health Ministry said that no outbreak of any water, food or air-borne disease has been reported from flood-affected areas so far. The ministry also said that teams have been sent to all 13 districts of the state to monitor the situation.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has put the figures of those missing at 1,800, though its vice chairman admits the toll could be much higher.
There is still no clarity over the number of people killed with casualty figures ranging from hundreds to thousands.
Meanwhile, a blame game has also started over accusations that the Uttarakhand government ignored the Met department’s warning about heavy rains and landslides and took no preventive measures to save people.
With PTI inputs