The Uttarakhand government has finally admitted that thousands of people could have been killed in the June 16 disaster that struck the state, where it will take at least three years and more than Rs. 2,000 crore to permanently restore the highways and bridges destroyed in the calamity.
“Although the official death toll is 550, the natural calamity was so massive that thousands of people may have lost their lives,” chief secretary Subhash Kumar said here on Thursday.
The admission came amid confusion over the mass cremation of dead pilgrims that began in Kedarnath on Wednesday. Deputy inspector general of police Sanjay Gunjiyal who was in the temple town since Tuesday to supervise the cremations, said in Dehradun that no cremation took place there on Thursday.
But chief secretary Kumar said 40-45 bodies were consigned to the flames at Kedarnath. Adding to the confusion, the Rudraprayag district information centre further exposed the lack of coordination within the state bureaucracy by saying that 15 bodies had been cremated.
While victims and anxious relatives struggled to contact officials, more than 200 trucks loaded with food and relief material were stranded in Rishikesh for want of route information. These included 125 trucks UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had flagged off from Delhi four days ago.
Many of the trucks began returning from Rishikesh after dumping their cargo wherever drivers found space in and around the city. The relief materials were left at the mercy of officials who said there was no place to store so much stuff.
As for more than 3,000 pilgrims still stranded, mostly in Badrinath and Harsil, the chief secretary said all of them would be evacuated in the next four days.
He said essential services were temporarily restored across the disaster zones. They include 714 of the 968 water supply schemes and 892 of the 1,636 PWD roads that were damaged.
The telecom failure spoke of the existing infrastructure, with mobile phone towers not working and handsets of key officials either ‘out of range’ or ‘switched off’. A dozen satellite phones provided at the disaster zones were not working too, though Kumar claimed otherwise.