Govt, priests' stand-off delays Kedarpuri revival

  • Prithviraj Singh, Hindustan Times, Kedarnath
  • Updated: Nov 07, 2014 19:54 IST

The clanking sound of metallic tools striking stone slabs echoes off the mountains. Workers mill around the temple, engaged in restoration of the Kedarnath shrine, which had faced nature’s savage fury last summer.

But the town around the shrine is still abandoned and mounds of rubble lie strewn everywhere – in the alleys, behind the damaged but still-standing buildings and on what were once streets.

More than a year after the floods of June, 2013, Kedarpuri resembles a heavily bombed countryside in a war-ravaged landscape.

And the state government has not been able to find a solution to the biggest dilemma: whether to reconstruct the temple town at the same place where it stood before the disaster. Or relocate it elsewhere, as suggested by experts. This despite a recent Cabinet decision allowing partial reconstruction at Kedarpuri.

Nearly 1,000 workers are presently engaged in the reconstruction works in the Kedarnath area but no effort has been possible to clear debris from the erstwhile township so far, mainly due to ongoing tug-of-war between the state government and priests.

The main demand of the priests is the restoration of Kedarpuri at its earlier location and not elsewhere.

The Geological Survey of India (GSI), on the other hand, has recommended rebuilding the town away from the shrine to ease human pressure on the ancient structure.

Kedarnath township but still the situation is not very clear if Kedarnath Priests Association is unwilling to allow lifting of debris until their demands are met.

“We will not allow it (lifting of debris) to happen unless the state government meets our demand. Government has now started showing its intention to resolve the issue but nothing concrete has happened so far,” said Shankar Prasad Bagwari, president of the Kedarnath Priests’ Association.

The association has also sought compensation at par with what was given to hoteliers and other businessmen.

Chief minister Harish Rawat has tried to take the middle path by allowing partial construction of the township around the temple.

“The government cannot ignore the GSI report and its recommendations but at the same time the demands of priests also have be to be taken into account,” Rawat told Hindustan Times.

Senior bureaucrats including additional chief secretary Rakesh Sharma held several rounds of talks with the priests but the stalemate continues, sources said.

The stalemate has out the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), entrusted with the job of reconstructing Kedarpuri, in a dilemma.

NIM principal colonel Ajay Kothiyal said that their workers were ready to start lifting the debris.

“We can clear the debris as and when the state government asks. But that has to come from the government. Preparations to bring heavy machines to the township are already going on,” he said.

NIM has been engaged in construction of roads, modern huts for tourists, helipads and erecting creating safety walls along the banks of the Mandakini and Saraswati rivers.

Presently, NIM is busy completing the first lot of 25 pre-fabricated huts which will be handed over to Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN) to run and operate tourist guest houses in the pilgrim season in 2015.

Though there are doubts over the strength and quality of these constructions, a designer of the huts defended the huts.

“These huts are strong enough to withstand the extremes of winter in Kedarnath,” Krishna Kudiyal, an IIT Roorkee architect and one of the main designers of the huts.

But wherever it is built, one thing is certain: Kedarpuri will rise from its own rubble.

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