Govt, opposition in verbal bout over Uttarakhand rescue efforts; Death toll may be in thousands

Dehradun/New Delhi: Leaders of the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) engaged in verbal bout and blame game on Thursday over the natural calamity that destroyed the state of Uttarakhand.
Latest reports said thousands of pilgrims staying in 90 rest houses may have been washed away in flash floods even as rescue operations were stepped up with additional IAF choppers pressed into service to evacuate stranded people in Kedarnath area. Read full story here
While Uttarakhand's Agriculture Minister Harak Singh Rawat and senior state government officials such as Principal Secretary Rakesh Sharma, Chief Secretary Subhash Kumar and Director-General of Police (PAC) Sanjay Gunjiyal maintained that the situation was slowly returning to normal, the BJP leadership in the state and at the Centre, including former chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal and party vice-president Balbir Punj accused the state and central government of not doing enough to end the misery of the local populace.
Rawat and senior officials said: "We have visited Gauri Kund and Phata. The situation is under control. We have established a relief centre and made it a base for all rescue activity. We have completed three rescue operations near Gauri Kund. It is difficult to land 5000 people by helicopter. Yesterday, 500 people were rescued."
Punj, however, said in New Delhi that the prevailing natural crisis in Uttarakhand had once again highlighted poor performance and corruption, which he added, is a hallmark of the UPA-II Government.
"Irrespective of any political party being in power, we have been ruthless in exploiting natural resources and, we have been exploiting Mother Ganges. They (the Government) thinks that by giving a particular amount of money, the problem will be taken care of," he added.
"The very fact that they have not declared it a natural disaster till now, shows how indifferent they are," Punj said.
Pokhriyal said in Dehradun that there are still thousands stranded in the Kedernath Valley and adjoining areas. "Even now, 15000 people are still there. It is a very big tragedy. The government has no idea. People who are trapped are trying to save others. People saved did not have clothes on their bodies," he added.
"There is no information centre. No medical team. No Home Guards. There is no one to receive the people coming down from helicopters, or anyone to take care of them and give them water. I have expressed my anguish to the Prime Minister on this yesterday," Pokhriyal said.

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