Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal cut short his London visit to return to Punjab in view of the tragedy that has struck religious shrines in Uttarakhand, said Shiromani Akali Dal spokesman Daljit Singh Cheema.
Badal, who was on a private visit to London, was supposed to come back on Saturday night, June 22, but chose to come back on Friday morning. He then went to the bus terminus in Chandigarh's Sector 43 along with party leaders and officials to receive pilgrims who had returned from Uttarakhand.
Cheema said that on Friday 10 buses came back carrying about 50 to 60 pilgrims each back from Rishikesh. "The government had sent a total 22 buses to ferry pilgrims from Rishikesh. Now we have sent another 150 buses and also asked the managing director of PRTC to go along," said Cheema, adding that the government has also arranged buses from Chandigarh to take the pilgrims to their respective destinations as a majority belonged to various places in Punjab.
Cheema further informed that the Punjab government had sent one chopper and one through the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) to Rishikesh to fetch people back home. "However, due to bad weather the army authorities might not have allowed the choppers to take off," he said, purportedly reacting to reports that the helicopters had not been pressed into service.
Also, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) has already arranged for a community kitchen (langar) at Rishikesh and at some other places. "The pilgrims have revealed horrifying tales and said that even in the hour of tragedy they were being fleeced by the locals. The taxi drivers were asking for Rs. 12,000 to bring people back to Rishikesh from Gobind Ghat. Similarly for a water bottle and a parantha they are charging Rs. 100 each," said Cheema.
The DSGMC has also sent 37 SUVs from Rishikesh to Joshi Math to bring back the pilgrims stranded at Gobind Ghat and other places on the way. The committee has started langar at Gaucher where pilgrims from Hemkunt Sahib, Kedarnath and Badrinath are stuck. DSGMC president Manjit Singh GK said that DSGMC would continue rescue operation until all pilgrims are evacuated.
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