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HindustanTimes Thu,31 Jul 2014

Uttarakhand flash floods: A tragedy twice over for Delhi victims' families

Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times   February 25, 2014
First Published: 19:39 IST(25/2/2014) | Last Updated: 19:45 IST(25/2/2014)

For families of those killed in last year's devastating flash floods in Uttarakhand, it's a double whammy.

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First, many of them were not even able to trace the bodies of their near and dear ones, swept away by the killer floods in the Himalayan state in June last year.

And now, eight months later, they have to face a cumbersome process to get compensation as promised by the government, thanks to bureaucratic red-tapism. 

On June 16 and 17 last year, the flash floods had devastated the fabled Kedarnath valley, sweeping away village after village and leaving over 4000 dead or missing (persons whose bodies have not been recovered are presumed dead but still officially listed as missing).

Around 237 persons from Delhi were said to have died in the tragedy and bodies of most of them were swept away by the swirling waters, resulting from a cloud burst in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand.

After the mandatory 90 days, the Uttarakhand government notified a list of 143 persons as untraceable and issued death certificates to them by November 2013.

Immediately after the list was notified, the Uttarakhand government also transferred Rs. 5.50 crore to be paid as compensation to the families of those who were killed or went missing.

The responsibility of disbursing the money was given to the Delhi government.

On its part, the Delhi government issued detailed guidelines for verification of the persons, whose death certificates were issued by the Uttarakhand government, before releasing the money.

It notified the sub-divisional officers (tehsildars) for verification of the claims and ensuring proper documentation before release of the money.

According to the guidelines, the officer will have to ensure that the first information report (FIR) about the missing person was filed before June 30, 2013. Also the claims made by the person have to be verified with the database maintained by the district disaster management authority..

Also, if the FIR had been filed beyond this the time limit (June 30), the reasons for approaching the police late should be inquired.

The officer was also asked to inquire whether the victim had traveled to Uttarakhand and the person was missing since he or she left for the Himalayan state.

The directives were issued to the officers by the Delhi government in January, after Arvind Kejriwal took over as Delhi chief minister.

"Despite the guidelines and issuance of death certificates by the Uttarakhand government, most of the families have not received any money from the government. We raised the issue when our party was in the government. But it did not had any impact on the bureaucracy," said Rajesh Garg, an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) legislator.

Some family-members of the victims have been running from pillar to post to get the compensation.

"My father was the only bread-earner of the family. The compensation will help me to set up a small business to provide livelihood for my family," said Rajesh Pandey, whose father was one of the persons who has been confirmed as missing by the Uttarakhand government.

The family-members have objected to the Delhi government's cumbersome verification process saying that the Uttarakhand government has already provided photographs of the victims after conducting necessary verification. 

"I don't understand why the government wants us to undergo the painful and tedious process again," a person, not willing to be quoted and have lost his mother in the tragedy, said.

A Delhi government official, however, said that directions have been issued to speed up the verification process and disburse compensation as quickly as possible.


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