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5 years of Kedarnath tragedy: Scars etched deep, those by Mandakini live in fear

Many labourers who use to work at Kedarnath shrine have refused to return there

dehradun Updated: Jun 15, 2018 22:47 IST
Kalyan Das
Kalyan Das
Hindustan Times, Dehradun
Kedarnath tragedy,Kedar valley,Reconstruction works
The reconstruction work in progress in near Kedarnath shrine.(Rajeev Kala/HT photo)

Krishna Gopal shivers in fear the moment one asks him to recall how the day unfolded on June 16, 2013. The 32- year-old resident of Agastyamuni town hasn’t yet been able to get on with life, five years later.

The date and its memories are etched deep. They have left scars that Gopal knows won’t ever be erased. It was the day when multiple cloud bursts triggered a deluge and flash floods that left more than 5,000 people dead. The gushing waters of River Mandakini swept away hundreds of villages, turned into debris the bridges and roads. In short, it left a tale of destruction unheard of and unseen in the annals of the mountain state.

“It is impossible to forget that day. We still get shivers down our spines when we see Mandakini flowing during rains,” says Gopal.

The 32-year-old’s house is located just 30m away from the river on a hill in Agastyamuni, a small town located 70 kms from Kedarnath. The town bore the brunt of the nature’s fury that day.

Gopal used to work as a labourer at Kedarnath shrine, but after the tragedy in 2013, he failed to gather courage to return there. “We saw bodies floating in the river…we never imagined that the river, which we considered our lifeline, would one day show us such grisly scenes,” says Gopal.

Virendra Bairwan too worked as a labourer at the shrine. “We have tremendous faith in Lord Kedarnath. I first visited the shrine at the age of 16 and later started working as a labourer there. I worked there for 27 years, but after the tragedy, I never went there again,” says Bairwan, also a resident of Agastyamuni.

Recalling the days in the aftermath of the tragedy, the 48-year-old recalls how they had to suffer a second tragedy, this time at the hands of the government. “They didn’t give a single penny in compensation to us labourers. Before the tragedy, we used to earn around Rs 50,000-60,000 working just two to three months at the shrine. But now, our income has dropped down by 80% as we stopped going there,” he says.

“We were not given a single grain of ration by the government. Agle election me, hum netaon ki gardan pakdenge jab wo vote mangenge humse (Next elections, we will catch hold of these politicians when they come asking for votes).”

During the 2013 tragedy, a bridge that used to connect nearly 35 villages located on one side of River Mandakini with Agastyamuni was destroyed. The government had then constructed a makeshift bridge and installed two cable-trolleys to help the villagers cross the river.

The villagers, however, demanded a permanent bridge and following several agitations, government approved one in 2014. Now, two pillars installed at each end of the river stand testimony to government approval. Four years later, the hope of a permanent bridge is fading away.

“The makeshift bridge gets swept away in heavy flow of Mandakini every monsoon. Villagers are then left at the mercy of the cable-trolleys,” says 37-year-old Sunita Devi, who lives on the other side of Mandakini. “About 1,500 people cross the river every day. The two trolleys have a capacity of four each,” she adds.

A resident of Agastyamuni and local journalist, Harish Gosain says the proposed bridge has remained a non-starter. “When the work was launched, the contractor did no site inspection before laying the foundation of pillars. The pillars stand in landslide-prone area. Later when it was detected, the bridge was redesigned and a new contractor was asked to start the work,” Gosain says, adding four years later, the bridge’s fate still hangs in balance.

“We have no idea when it would be completed. The villagers, who earn their bread by selling milk and vegetables in Agastyamuni, sometimes have to take a tiring route of 10 km via Ganganagar to cross the river in case the temporary bridge is swept away. If the bridge is constructed, the distance will come down to 1.5 km,” he adds.

Ditrict magistrate, Rudraprayag, Mangesh Ghildiyal claims that “the delay is due to the time consuming process” of proper cementing at the two ends. Once it is done, then the holding cables would be installed followed by the concluding work. We are hopeful of opening it for the public by this July,” he says.

First Published: Jun 15, 2018 22:42 IST