Uttarakhand speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal on Saturday triggered a controversy by claiming the death toll in the flood tragedy could cross the 10,000 mark, prompting home minister Sushilkumar Shinde to quickly scale down the figure to 900.
Chief minister Vijay Bahuguna, who has stated that over 1,000 people may have perished in the calamity, CKunjwal's claim, saying it is incorrect and that true figures will come out once the debris have been cleared.
"No one can give the exact death count but after travelling to different disaster affected areas and information gathered from victims and the local residents, I could say the death toll is around 10,000," said Kunjwal, who had put the casualty number at 5,000 a week ago.
The speaker's figure, more than ten times the current official toll, could embarrass the government. Shinde, who visited the state to oversee rescue operations, however said 900 people had died in the flood mayhem. Chief secretary Subhash Kumar also sought to play down the alarming casualty toll, saying a clearer picture will emerge in a couple of days as the figure of missing persons, said to be around 3,000, is being ascertained with several cases of duplication.
Meanwhile, a majority of the stranded pilgrims were evacuated from Badrinath and the remaining 500 will be flown to safety on Sunday if the weather remains clear, Kumar said. He informed the state had suffered losses of Rs 700-800 crores in the devastating floods.
But there appeared no end to the woes of the state. More than 200 families living along the banks of Bhagirathi river were asked to move to safer places when its water level swelled. The MeT department, however, assured the rise was due to melting of glaciers and ruled out flood threat.
Efforts were being made on war-footing to ensure supply of essential relief material to over 600 villages in Rudraprayag, Chamoli and Uttarkashi districts, which are cut off after the floods.
In the worst-hit Kedarnath region, cremation of bodies was on in full swing to minimise chances of an epidemic outbreak. Till now, 34 bodies have been consigned to flames and the cremation of 12 more bodies pulled out from the debris will be conducted soon.
A team of five experts from Archaeological Survey of India will be airdropped in the holy town to assess the extent of damage caused to the shrine and time required for its restoration.
(With inputs from PTI)