The focus on Uttarakhand natural disaster shifted from stranded pilgrims to its actual magnitude on Tuesday, as the last group of 150 pilgrims was rescued and sent to safer locations.
One UN agency has put the number of missing at 11,000, but the state government, giving out its own figures of untraceable people as 3,000, has admitted that the precise number of deaths in the tragedy may never be known.
However, the UN agency has not been named. UN resident coordinator in India Lise Grande said in a statement that the agency has not issued the number of missing people or loss of life.
“We will never know the exact number of those dead and the number of people who have been buried or washed away,” Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna has said. The unfortunate task of declaring missing persons dead will begin after a month of filing the missing persons report.
Choppers of the Indian Air Force that had taken part in rescue operations will remain in the state for the next week or so to participate in relief work if any.
Heavy rains similar in magnitude to the June 16-17 have been forecast for the weekend with the met department predicting rainfalls ranging from 70-130mm a day lashing parts of the state from July 4 to 7. This volume is only slightly lower than the 300 mm rainfall that fell on June 16-17 triggering floods and landslides.
Sources said the UN agency had arrived at the figure with inputs from local NGOs.
Meanwhile, bad weather prevented the mass cremation of bodies at the worst-hit Kedarnath and adjoining areas. No cremations have taken place in the last two days and the number of bodies consigned to fire remains at 36. Kedarnath has recorded maximum deaths as a result of the tragedy.
The state government now faces up to the challenge of delivering food and relief materials to over 170 villages located in the remote parts of the state, where food shortage has been reported.
With food and other relief materials perishing without protection in various parts of the state, there has been growing concern over mismanagement of food delivery.
Damaged roads and broken bridges, which have affected connectivity to the large parts of the state, further heighten the challenge of delivering relief. As the government wound up rescue operations, the Kedarnath-Badrinath temple committee wanted resumption of the “Char Dham yatra” from 2014.
The government said it may have to suspend the “yatra” for two years. Chamoli District Magistrate S A Murugesan said: “All the pilgrims stranded in Badrinath dham have been evacuated. Some locals and Nepali labourers remain there who will be evacuated by this evening if the weather permits.”