Rashmi Vasistha cried for help outside Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun on Thursday. But officials supposed to assist kin of stranded pilgrims were busier catering to VIPs allegedly deriving mileage from the disaster that killed 72 people in Uttarakhand.
Rashmi had arrived from New Delhi seeking her brother and nephew stranded near Kedarnath. "My nephew called saying they will die if not rescued soon. I tried to contact officials who had ears only for VIPs," she said.
The scene was no different at the government helipad on Sahastradhara Bypss. Relatives of the stranded converged there hoping to reach the victims via choppers. Anger simmered as the choppers made sorties only to fly VIPs to and from the airport that lies on the way to Rishikesh.
Some 100 people subsequently blocked the Dehradun-Rishikesh highway to protest the government's 'insensitivity'.
The odd chopper did bring a few stranded VIPs in, like Ashwani Chaubey, BJP legislator from Bihar, his wife and children. "I lost three members of my family and five are missing. I saw several bodies lying inside Kedarnath Temple," he said.
This added to the commoners' ordeal. "No government exists here, and nothing works. One can only wait for the news, good or bad," said Subhash Garg from Jaipur whose relatives are stranded near Gauri Kund in Rudraprayag district.
Dharmendra, also from Jaipur, was desperate to reach 11 members of his family including a minor. The airport had no help desk and he didn't know where to go. "What should I do?" he asked, breaking down.
"There is no news about my father while two of his friends died near Kedarnath. The government cannot say if he is alive because it has no list of the dead," said Sushil from Bihar.
Others like Jaipur-based Dinesh Gupta offered to pay chopper operators whatever they wanted to reach stranded relatives and friends stranded. ""My nephew called from Gauri Kund to narrate how 4,000 people are trapped with no food and belongings. Rotting bodies are making things worse," he said.
Amid the anxiety, pilots of 10 choppers at the helipad were reluctant to fly citing low visibility. They flew the VIPs to the airport when the weather cleared a bit.