680 pilgrims still stranded

The Uttarakhand state government has imposed a blanket ban on the construction of houses and commercial establishments along the banks of its rivers, many of which went down like ninepins during last month’s floods.
Chief minister Vijay Bahuguna also announced the setting up of a statutory Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority that will look after the massive rehabilitation work required in the state following the unprecedented damage.
Other measures announced included compensation for all commercial establishments, from small dhaba vendors to hotels, waiver of power bills for all affected families and distribution of free ration to villages where connectivity has not been restored. Mr Bahuguna refused to speculate on the casualty figures claiming that bodies have still to be extricated from the huge quantity of debris lying in affected areas.
“There is no room for speculation on the casualty figure. In a situation like this, I would prefer not to quantify a figure though police officials who have visited the affected areas say 500-600 bodies are visible, but many may be lying underneath the debris and many reported missing are yet to be found,” said Mr Bahuguna. The number of missing continues to be around 3,000, according to the state government. While the state government announced a slew of relief measures, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh also announced Central funding under Indira Awas Yojna to assist in the reconstruction of the state. “Under the Indira Awas Yojna, we will build an additional 14,000 houses in the state with Central funding,’ said Mr Ramesh, speaking at a press meet in Dehtra Dun.
“We expect assistance from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank to the tune of between `2,500 to `3,000 crore to help in this reconstruction process,” the minister added.
Officials in Chamoli district said 220 pilgrims in Badrinath were evacuated to safety on Monday leaving 680 still 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 from where they will be brought further down by road. The chief secretaries of the states from where pilgrims have come, have been asked to verify the list and if the lost people are not traced in a month they will be declared dead.
On the 16th day of the calamity on Monday, only 36 bodies have been cremated so far in the worst-hit Kedarnath shrine area with no cremation having taken place there in the past two days.
The state government has sent a 200-member team of medical experts, trained police personnel and support staff from the municipal corporation to the valley to help perform the last rites. Some of the medical experts, who had been sent to Kedarnath to take the DNA samples of the bodies there, have fallen sick and been forced to return. With bodies of humans and animals lying all over the area, a foul smell hangs in the air, making it difficult for those sent to clear the debris to be able to stay there for long.

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