Around 3 people have died and 400 have been left stranded at Kedarnath due to heavy snowfall, since May 8. With heavy rainfall and storm predictions, we can’t help but remember the dreaded catastrophe that struck Uttarakhand in 2013.
On June 14, 2013, while most parts of North India were enjoying the pre-monsoon drizzles, Uttarakhand bore witness to one of the most devastating natural disasters. This was said to be India’s worst natural calamity since the 2004 Tsunami.
Around 5,700 casualties were reported, including more than 900 residents. 4,200 villages were affected including the trapped 100,000 tourists and pilgrims. The Indian Meteorological Department warned of such a dire situation but it was ignored by the unaware people.
Eventually, a huge cloudburst swept the hills. The flash floods carried along a lot of debris which clogged the entire area. Landslides buried villages such as Gaurikund and Ram Bada, claiming thousands of lives. Pilgrimage centers of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri, and Gangotri were isolated by the debris. Over 70,000 pilgrims were left marooned.
Details of the fatalities are horrific. Most of the bodies were found in Haridwar. Many of the bodies that were washed away travelled hundreds of kilometers into Uttar Pradesh. Several of the dead were found in the cities of Bijnor, Allahabad, and Bulandshahr. The search and rescue continued for a long time. By September 2013, 556 bodies were recovered. Extending to the fourth or fifth round, the recovery teams found highly decomposed bodies along the river.
The rescue and rehabilitation services were prompt. The Army, the Indian Air force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the Border Security Force, Public Works Department, and the National Disaster Response Force worked together to help the people recuperate. In the latter half of June, the Indian Air Force airlifted almost 18,424 stranded people. They dropped a total of 3,36,930 kg of ration and other relief material.
Even Dera Sacha Sauda, a famous NGO led by Saint Dr Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insan supported the displaced with door-to-door distribution of ration. Apart from Dera Sacha Sauda, organisations like Shiv Parwati Sewa Dal, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, Pragya, and Charities Aid Foundation India took part in the massive relief and assistance operation.
Everyone did all they could, in a short frame of time. However, it can’t be said that their initiatives were expertly planned. The authorities did not have an instant response team on standby, even though the situation looked grim. The same mistake is being made now. Snowfall has made roads inaccessible to 2,500 visitors, including a former CM of Uttarakhand.
The Char Dhaam passage needs a permanent team and resources that can be instantly invoked when disaster looms. Calling the army when enough damage has been done shouldn’t be the only option available.
The responsibility falls with the tourists and pilgrims as well. It falls on them to heed the meteorological department before going on long treks. Hopefully, in the future, there will be stark changes, where man understands that he is not above Mother Nature.