Chandra Ballabh (43) of Supai village in Almora district hadn’t forgot the 2010 monsoons that devastated several parts of Uttarakhand. Infrastructure worth crores was swept away in the rains that lashed mountain state besides killing many. Three years down the line, the early monsoon rains this month equally devastated several parts of Uttarakhand and killed hundreds at Char Dham Yatra route.
Government figures suggest more than 800 pilgrims have been killed while unofficial claim suggest the number could be in thousands. The flash floods that swept away Kedarnath valley has left infrastructure in a bad shape.
Moreover the tourism industry has been hit badly. Uttarakhand stands at 7th place among top 10 states preferred by the domestic tourists, as per 2010 union tourism ministry figures. Alone 30 million domestic tourists visited Uttarakhand in 2010.
Thousands of people are dependent on the earnings from tourism industry in this mountain state. PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industries (PHDCCI) underlines out of 49% of service sector that contributes to state’s GDP, tourism alone constitutes 60% share.
In fact after the flash floods, mass cancellations of bookings have been reported from places like Ramnagar, Nainital, Mussoorie.
Experts say that government will have to launch a massive ‘branding’ exercise in a bid to regain confidence of both domestic and foreign tourists since the devastating images have shattered people globally.
“Uttarakhand has limited carrying capacity but several times more tourists were flocking to state. Now post calamity, government needs to focus on branding state and also regulate tourism” says Pankaj Shah, independent aviation and tourism expert.
An Uttarakhand Tourism Development Master Plan 2007-2022 prepared jointly by union and state government suggests Uttarakhand attracts 37% tourists falling between 25-35 years of age group and 24% falling under 35-44 years of age group.
PHDCCI say now government has an opportunity to make correction, which it failed to do earlier at Char Dham circuit, lifeline for Uttarakhand.
“Haphazard development, encroachments had taken place in the entire Char Dham circuit. Now government must focus on systematic re-development as per master plan” suggests Anil Taneja, regional director, PHDCCI.
The experts and government agencies feel anything between Rs 500 crores to Rs 2,000 will be needed to rebuild road, bridges and water schemes. More than 1200 roads have been washed away in June 16-17 rains.
“Building bye-laws for the fragile hilly areas which were never touched should be fully followed now” tells Pradeep Chaturvedi, former president, Safety and Quality Forum, Institute of Engineers, Delhi.
Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna adds that Uttarakhand has slipped years back since the rains has hit hard on infrastructure.
“We will try to bring things back in shape. For this we are seeking help of consultants and agencies” he explains.