The Indian Army has come across an altogether different challenge in rain-ravaged Uttarakhand – to motivate stranded people to take the road route, particularly in places where vehicles cannot run and sorties are limited. And once again rising to the occasion, the men in uniform have devised a way out to overcome this challenge. To instil confidence among the stranded people, senior central command officers are escorting groups of people up to the reception points. These officers interact with people all along the route and even carry their luggage.
“Problems like these arise under circumstances where roads are destroyed due to landslides and people stranded want to be airlifted instead of walking up to the destination. Since the roads are unfriendly for using vehicles and we have limited choppers which are weather sensitive, we have no other options but to accompany them while walking the roads,” an army official of the central command said.
Even Lt Gen Anil Chait, general officer commanding in chief (GOC-in-C), central command, admitted recently that the biggest challenge before the army was to generate hope among people that they would be rescued.
Take for example the 42-kilometre stretch of the road between Badrinath and Joshimath (see map) along river Alaknanda --one of the worst affected areas where more than 5000 pilgrims are stranded as on date. Walking on foot is the only mean of evacuation on 12 kilometers of this road. So pulling out all stops to deploy its reserves as well as elements of its special forces, the army has set up relief camps at various places on this route to provide food and medical assistance to the men on duty and, of courses, for the people being rescued. This route also includes a bridge washed away in the floods where airlifting is the only option.
“We can use helicopters only for elderly and sick people. As for younger lot, we encourage them to walk, at times using ropes and cables,” the officer said. En route the treacherous terrains, the men in olive green also carry out extensive search operations to find out more trapped people.
On this road as many as 764 people were rescued through the land route on Tuesday while another 300, 281 were evacuated on Monday and Sunday respectively. Army had set up two heli-bridges (using helicopters to cross the river) on river Alaknanda at Govindgath and Lambagarh areas in Joshimath-Badrinath road respectively.
On Wednesday, army steel footbridge became functional at Lambagarh in Badrinath valley. This is the first bridge to be constructed since the floods devastated the hill state.