Uttarakhand floods: Govt was asked to move pilgrims `to safer place`

Despite repeated warnings of "heavy rains" issued by the state met dept, the Uttarakhand govt reportedly failed to pay heed and take timely action that could have saved hundreds of lives lost in the flood-hit state.

Zee Media Bureau

Dehradun: Despite repeated warnings of "heavy rains" issued by the state meteorological department, the Uttarakhand government reportedly failed to pay heed and take timely action that could have saved hundreds of lives lost in the flood-hit state.

The state met department had issued specific advisories asking the top authorities to move the pilgrims to "safer place" and "postpone" the Char Dham yatra. However, the authorities reportedly failed to take the warnings seriously.

The advisory on June 15 stated that "heavy to very heavy rains" were expected and warned of potential danger on June 16-17 and asked the Char Dham yatra to be postponed for few days.

"From 14th, we had started giving the heavy rainfall warning....For 15th we had issued warning for very heavy rains ... And we also said if you could postpone the yatra for 4-5 days.... And 16th, we said heavy to very heavy rainfall and specifically highlighted the regions....," Uttarkhand Met department Director Anand Sharma said.

Uttarakhand Disaster Management Minister Yashpal Arya admitted that the Met department had issued the warning but said there was little the authorities could do because of the extent of the natural calamity as lakhs of people were scattered in the region.

"We had prior information. But there was no visible indication of crisis of this magnitude," the minister said.

"Lakhs of people were in different places. What could have the department done? We did our best and we will keep doing it," Arya said.

Sharma, however, said that the warnings cannot be "so specific" and it is difficult to anticipate how the situation will unfold in such circumstances.

He said the state Met department had warned that people should avoid going to the hills and those already in higher reaches should move to safer places but conceded that such warnings were of little help to the people who were already on the move and had little access to any form of communication.

"The Disaster Management authorities here were aware of the warnings. Who am I to say whether the state government acted on the warnings or not," Sharma told a news agency on whether the state government had failed to act promptly on the advisories.

Sharma said he had read reports in the newspapers that the chief secretary had asked people not to visit the Char Dham in view of the MeT department forecast of bad weather.

On the causes of the massive scale of loss of human life and property in the calamity, Sharma said it can happen despite MeT department warnings.

"Our warnings cannot be so specific. Heavy to very heavy rains coupled with landslides at places is not enough to suggest that there is going to be crisis of this magnitude," he said.

The warnings were reportedly issued for the flood-hit areas are Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamnotri and Joshimath regions. Warnings were issued on June 16 asking the pilgrims to be moved to "safer places."

While Director of Uttarakhand met department stated that warnings were issued, the state government claimed there was not enough prior indication of a "crisis of this magnitude".

Meanwhile, the confusion over the death toll in the Uttarakhand floods refuses to die down with Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna saying that it is practically impossible to know the exact number of those dead.

When asked about the fear of rising death toll, the chief minister said, "We will never know the exact number of those dead and the number of people who have been buried or washed away."

This came after Uttarakhand assembly speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal claimed that the situation suggested that the death toll could cross 10,000. However, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Saturday pegged the death toll at 900.

Shinde said 105,000 people had been evacuated so far from the flood-hit areas.

Meanwhile, Indian Air Force choppers evacuated over 800 stranded people from Badrinath as it continued to rain in the state.

(With PTI Inputs)