The Telegraph
Saturday , July 19 , 2014
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To Kedarnath with last year’s plan

The state is yet to learn lessons from last year’s Uttarakhand tragedy in which 75 residents lost their lives to flash floods and multiple landslides during the Kedarnath holy yatra.

As pilgrims gear up for this year’s yatra, Bihar has not come up with a mechanism by which it can swiftly provide them relief in the event of a calamity. Last year, thousands had died during the Kedarnath yatra. This year, the yatra was suspended from Wednesday following a heavy downpour and landslides alert from the Met department.

Sources in the state disaster management department said the government plans to come up with a system under which those setting out on pilgrimage next year would have to leave their contact details and address with the local administration. This would enable the state machinery to keep a tab on them and reach them during emergencies.

“At present, the state has not developed any system but that does not mean we are not keeping tabs. In May, officials from the Uttarakhand disaster management department met us here. They were impressed with our disaster management plan and assured us they would implement some of it in Uttarakhand. The state government there has set up some control rooms where pilgrims have to submit their contact details. Our government is in touch with these control rooms, so, we don’t think there will be any problem,” a department official said.

Incessant and heavy rains and cloudbursts last year had triggered sudden flash floods and landslides in the Kedarnath Valley. The Kedarnath Temple and areas around it were completely destroyed. Many pilgrims got stranded. Over 5,000 people are believed to have died while many more went missing. Former health minister and now Buxar MP Ashwini Choubey was among those stuck in the catastrophe, with the dying, for days together.

Despite last year’s experience, officials said they had no idea how many people from Bihar have gone to Uttarakhand this time. “We are in touch with the disaster management department of Uttarakhand. We have come to know that a high alert has been sounded in Kedarnath. The department is taking constant feedbacks this time. From next year, we plan to come up with a system under which people leaving for Uttarakhand would be requested to leave their contact details with their respective district magistrates,” the official said.

“There is little we can do in case of an emergency. But, at least, the department will know the exact number of people and have their details. The department can call them to know if they are safe and guide them as the situation demands. Their family back home too can be contacted. The department, in association with the tourism department, is mulling creation of such a system,” he said.

Those at the department’s control room said they had a contact number which people could always call. “The control room is functional all the time and information is collected frequently. People can call 0612-2217305 and we will give them any information we have about Uttarakhand’s weather. We can’t give details about individuals,” an operator at the control room said.