People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 32

August 11 , 2013


Uttarakhand: Tragedy of Ruling Class Callousness Continues

Vijai Rawat

AFTER the disaster that struck the state of Uttarakhand about seven weeks ago, one would have thought that, after the immediate evacuation of the pilgrims and tourists from the area with the help of the military and paramilitary forces, the focus of the central and state governments would shift to the local population. The state government, based on an alliance of the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), a faction of Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) and some independents, is supposed to be the key element in addressing the gigantic problems being faced by the people of the state. However, this is precisely what is missing by and large.


As it stands today, most of the roads, water supply lines, power lines, bridges etc have been washed away along with many townships including Kedarnath, Rambara, Gaurikund, Sonprayag, Chandrapuri, Vijay Nagar etc along the Mandakini river. It was not the fury of nature alone that is responsible for the scale of the disaster. The neglect, the shoddy development methods, failure of the state despite warnings and protests etc, all contributed to the disaster. The brunt was faced by the people of districts like Rudraprayag, Uttarkashi, Pithoragarh and Chamoli. The fury of nature was indeed a factor but the ravages done by the ruling classes over years through overt and covert actions did aggravate the situation, the consequences of which are being faced by the local population.

The entire stretch from the temple town Kedarnath to Gaurikund on the foothill, a distance of steep 14 km, was packed to the full with pilgrims ascending and descending from the shrine, mules, muleteers and ponies, palanquins carrying the aged and their carriers, dhaba owners and their young workers, whereas Kedarnath had its components of safai karamcharis, temple committee workers, policemen and priests, many of them locals. The initial avalanche causing the flood carried with it massive silt, boulders and uprooted trees, cascading through the 14 km trekking route, causing death and destruction along its path, trapping people and animals in the folds of the catastrophe. This was nature in its most brutal form. With hindsight one is tempted to ask why, for all these years of development talk, an all-weather alternative route was not built by the devout ruling classes of this country.

The callousness of the government in the state, even in the face of the disaster, became evident when its inaction continued for a week after the tragedy. It failed to heed to the advice of its own governor and some sensitive field officers. Why was Rudraprayag, the district at the centre of tragedy, left without a collector? Why has the connectivity of the district headquarters and the rest of the district not been restored? The fact remains that there was no government on the scene when the need for a government was at its peak. Many lives could have been saved if the government had swung into action and decided to involve the political parties, civil social groups and village level organisations to meet an extreme situation, but as a matter of fact their advice and suggestions were blatantly ignored. The dependence was on the bureaucracy which was in a state of paralysis, while the main ruling party has been in the grip of a crisis due to publicly waged factional wars. The help of the army and paramilitary forces was belatedly sought, and then the focus was rightly on the pilgrim stranded in Kedar Valley, Badrinath and Hemkunt Sahib. The local population, wherever possible, came to the rescue of the trapped pilgrims --- unmindful of their own immediate and long term losses. Dharchula and Munsyari in Pithoragarh, Pindar Valley in Chamoli district, Srinagar in Pauri district, Jamuna valley in Dehradun and Uttarkashi district, also Gangotri in Uttarkashi were not in the loop of media coverage and within the focus of either the state or the central government.


The condition of all arterial roads in Pithoragarh, Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Rudraprayag districts remains a cause for concern. Even after weeks, the main roads remain non-functional. For example, the Rishikesh-Badrinath Mana Road is non-functional at Govind Ghat, and is in a very bad shape at Deoprayag. It has of late been frequently disrupted at Gauchar.

The Rudraprayag-Kedarnath Road has completely ceased to exist six km beyond Rudraprayag, with no sign of reconstruction in the foreseeable future.

The Karanprayag-Tharali Road has been breached at seven places at least; three development blocks of the district are now without any connectivity with the district headquarters. The same about the Nandprayag-Ghat Road. In these circumstances, there is now no PDS network, no commercial activity, no relief schemes etc.

The PWD roads are being manned in a most inefficient manner, though some of them have survived, like the Muyali-Phata Road which is the only lifeline to Kedar Valley. Its maintenance is shoddy, to say the least.

About 140 suspension bridges linking villages to the main roads have been washed away, mainly due to lack of maintenance by the state PWD over years. The roads linking villages to the major national and state roads have also suffered extensive damages.

Ensuring road connectivity is a very crucial problem for the centre and the state governments. Now that a tragedy has taken place and taken its toll in terms of life, land and livelihood, one may well ask the powers that be: What made the entire road system collapse after just one calamity? Was this collapse not responsible for the scale and magnitude of the tragedy? The failure to establish an all-weather road network 66 years after independence and the failure to establish alternative emergency systems definitely call for a scrutiny.

It is a shame that the basic problem of food supply, health services, relief and issues of livelihood have not been addressed so far. These problems cannot be solved unless the problem of road connectivity is properly tackled.


The most serious question that is being raised in the entire state is of livelihood. While the ongoing pilgrim and tourist season has been washed away, no immediate sign of its revival is in sight. There thus appears to be a very bleak prospect before the people. An early revival of the pilgrim-tourist season this year is their only hope, but it is possible only if the government assures better roads in the shortest possible time. In the absence of a road network, no relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction is possible. The roads and bridges under the PWD and local bodies need immediate attention. The villages have to be linked to the main road and vigorous implementation of MGNREGA has to be assured. It is unfortunate, however, that even though seven weeks have passed, problems of the people have not been taken up by the state government.

On the issue of livelihood, village panchayat institutions and MGNREGA need to be activated. There is enough work to be done --- improving the village link roads, improving the damaged fields, support for marketing through government agencies, especially of citrus fruits, reconstruction of damaged buildings and houses etc.

While the health infrastructure in the disaster hit districts was not very good earlier either, the new situation has made it many times worse. The most acute problems are being faced by women who are in advance stages of pregnancy. Health centres, ambulances and support services are totally absent. With erratic food supply, cases of anaemia and malnutrition, already severe in the area, have further increased. Gastroenteritis and hygiene related infections etc have shown a marked increase over the weeks. In the extreme situation prevailing in many parts of Uttarakhand, field hospitals with adequate number of doctors and paramedical staff with ambulance facilities are the need of the hour.


The CPI(M) took the stand that in an extreme situation such as the ongoing one, the government must convene an all-party meeting and involve various activist groups and sections of population in the affected areas. It is unfortunate and irresponsible on the part of the state government that it did not care to do so despite requests and reminders by political parties including the CPI(M).

Finally, when an all-party meeting was convened on July 14 almost a month after the disaster, the government came totally unprepared. Also, instead of the chief minister reporting on the matter, the chief secretary was asked to report on the tasks accomplished. The meeting was allowed to be dominated by three former chief minister, three MPs, the speaker and the disaster management minister.

The CPI(M) had to intervene more by way of anger at the callous attitude of the ruling party and the opposition in the state. The party stressed the need for restoring road connectivity, the PDS and MNREGA etc, and submitted a memorandum on relief, rehabilitation and subsequent reconstruction.


While CPI(M) workers plunged themselves into rescue and relief operations in the very initial phase of the disaster, as early as on June 18 (see People�s Democracy, July 14, p 7), the CPI(M) state secretariat soon reviewed the situation and came to the conclusion that the party must immediately form a Rahat Committee for organising relief in the affected areas, with special attention to districts of Rudraprayag and Chamoli, and a few other areas as the need may arise. Thus Ukhimath, Augustmuni, Narayan Bagar, Deval and Tharali development blocks were the main areas of attention. It was also stressed that the entire party must get activated on this issue and an initial fund of Rs five lakh must be raised by the state party. Every party comrade contributed to this initial fund. The initial task identified was of reporting the cases of missing persons to the nearest appropriate authority. This was of special importance for the district of Rudraprayag because of a large number of missing and dead persons. It was decided that immediate help must be given to the families of party comrades who have perished. A three month relief effort, with a component of at least 20 full time workers in this effort, was decided upon.

On the basis of the decisions taken by the CPI(M) state secretariat and the field reports and assessment of requirements, while keeping its own limitations in view, the party established a relief camp at Phata and a medical camp at Tharali. It also moved to provide the immediate need of food and other essentials to the families of missing persons in the first stage. Since the condition of the roads did not allow bigger vehicles to reach the area and the materials had to be carried from the road to the village on one�s own back, a family pack of 15 kg was thought to be proper initially. Each such pack contained 10 kg of rice, 2 kg of dal, one litre of cooking oil, 1 kg of sugar, tea and spices. The packing and transportation had to be organised from Dehradun or Rishikesh or Hardwar. A small vehicle could carry about 90 family packs and still smaller vehicles could carry only 40. A distance of 900 km to and fro was involved in this exercise. The CPI(M) approached some other organisations and individuals, who contributed to this effort.

The two medial camps, set up at Phata and Tharali, attended to some 1700 men, women and children. The effort needs special mention because of the extreme conditions in the inner Himalayas. The volunteers at Tharali medical camp had to literally walk over a distance of 48 km in the absence of a road link, along with Pindar river and the Pindar Valley.

While this effort was still continuing, new requirements became apparent in terms of pullovers, mufflers, shawls, blankets, raincoats etc. In this regard, the CPI(M) needs to specially consider the requirement of school-going children, housewives etc. This means the party may have to think of another family pack in the coming weeks.

At least 150 families in the area of our focus are in dire need of proper shelter, because winter approaches soon after the rains in these parts of the inner Himalayas. Shelter and fuel are immediate requirements. The CPI(M) has taken up this responsibility also, with special attention to dalit families, families that have lost their land in the flood, and families that have lost the only earning member in the tragedy. It is also attempting a repair of certain community centres, school buildings, panchayat bhavans etc.



It is being said by the government that it was a natural calamity and nothing could be done about it, as if that ends the argument. But there indeed are facts about how the government�s policies contributed to the disaster. The government pursued these policies despite warnings, protests, agitations and memoranda submitted to the state and central governments by, among others, the CPI(M) and the Kisan Sabha during the last five years. A section of local opinion thinks that the private sector hydel projects of GVK, Lanco, L&T and JP Associates contributed to materialisation of the disaster in Srinagar, Mandakini Valley and Gobind Ghat. The technologies used by the Border Road Organisation for road construction and four-laning of the existing roads in these areas are open to questioning. Unlimited blasting, dynamiting, tunnelling etc need to be curbed. As an immediate measure, the role of these projects, the methods used and the debris dumped into the rivers over years need to be evaluated.

As of now, the chief minister is not prepared to heed to these concerns, committed as he is to the neo-liberal paradigm of development.

While the party and the mass organisations are to provide relief in the coming weeks, the basic struggle will be for food, fuel, fodder, healthcare and livelihood. A sustained battle to ensure relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction will have to be waged.

In this regard, the CPI(M) has submitted a memorandum to the government, some of whose main points are as under:

1) The Border Road Organisation must ensure that the arterial roads under its control become serviceable in the shortest possible time.

2) The state�s PWD must convert its roads into serviceable all-weather roads and restore the bridging facilities. This has to be a priority.

3) Village link roads must be rebuilt at the earliest and maintained by ensuring the use of MGNREGA mechanism to the fullest.

4) The PDS outlets must be activated, despite the difficult supply lines and logistic problems. Mules and men must be employed for this purpose. The APL-BPL distinction has to be done away with.

5) Restoration of damaged water supply lines has to be taken up as a priority.

6) Field hospitals with ambulance facilities must be established in disaster affected areas.

7) The role of Lanco, L&T, JP and JVK hydel projects in the making of the flash floods needs to be evaluated, especially in terms of their unscientific methods, indiscriminate dynamiting and tunnelling, depositing debris in the riverbeds and on riverbanks, deforestation beyond sanctioned limits etc.

8) Electric supply must be restored in all affected areas and provision of solar lanterns, solar cookers and solar electric systems made until such time as the electric supply is restored. (Gensets need diesel for operation which in the circumstances is very difficult to get.) These solar facilities need to be subsidised.

9) Frequency of Uttarakhand transport buses must be augmented on the main and arterial roads. The facility must be extended to the secondary roads.

10) Public and bank loans owed by the affected population have to be completely waived off.

11) There must be immediate rehabilitation of population affected by the calamity along Mandakini, in Pindar and Urgun Valleys, in Munsiyari-Dharchula, in the higher reaches of Mandakini Valley etc.

12) Immediate attention needs to be paid to the shelterless who number about 3000 according to the government. Of these, at least 1000 cases need to be immediately attended; they need shelter before anything else.

13) Compensation announced for the missing persons must be paid without delay. Other problems like education of children, care of widows and elderly people etc have to be specially attended.

14) Adequate compensation for the loss of animals like mules, horses, dairy cattle, goats and sheep has to be announced and paid. Provision of fodder for animals and its distribution from convenient centres must be assured.

15) Agencies like KMVN and GMVN must be vigorously involved in assuring the revival of tourist circuits, marketing of produce, supply of provisions, marketing of produce, clearing of fields and also minor construction activity etc.

16) The process of locating the missing persons must continue, including the missing safai karamcharis, taxi and bus drivers, vegetable vendors, porters etc. This number must be around 1000. Most of these are either contract workers or self-employed.

17) Priority must be accorded to reconstruction of the damaged school and community buildings, Anganwadi centres etc.

The CPI(M) cadres who have been in the forefront of meeting the difficult situation, need a mention. They are Raja Ram Semwal, Asadh Singh, Daulat Singh, Uma Nautiyal, Sateshwar, Vijai Bhatt, Indresh Nautiyal, Kamlesh Khantwal, Purushotam Badoni, Ratanmani Dobhal, Madan Mishra, Rajendra Negi, Bhopal Singh Rawat, Lekh Raj, Basti Lal, Pursohattam Sati, Malesh Gaur, Mamata Gaur, Manmohan Singh Rautela, Jagmohan Singh, Suraj, Indu Nautiyal, Raju Negi, Jag Mohan Jhinkwan and Bharat etc. These and other comrades undertook special responsibilities in rendering relief, collecting materials and funds, and providing volunteer support.