Uncertainty over the ‘Char Dham’ yatra and slow pace of rehabilitation and reconstruction in the flood-ravaged hills of Uttarakhand are posing uncomfortable questions for the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP, on its part, is trying to tap public anger against the government over the tardy preparations for the annual pilgrimage to the four holy shrines — Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, by making it a talking point in its campaign.
Opposition leaders disregard Chief Minister Harish Rawat’s claims that the pilgrimage will start on time, as they say roads leading to Gaurikund, the base camp for the trek to Kedarnath, are still in poor condition and the pace of work is not encouraging.
People too, irrespective of their political affiliations, are criticising the state government even though work is underway for the last two months. “The state government did not do anything. I lost my workers in Kedarnath. There is no reconstruction work happening.
NGOs gave money, but the state has done nothing,” Ark Vajpayee, a small-time businessman in Guptkashi, told Deccan Herald. While Vajpayee is a BJP supporter, Congress loyalist Prakash Lall echoes similar thoughts saying no work has been done.
Tell-tale signs of destruction caused by the flash floods in June-July are apparent while travelling from Srinagar town in Uttarakhand to Guptkashi. One can see damaged houses, buildings, roads and debris eating into the river. However, road repair work and excavators trying to remove debris to clear the course of the river are a common sight.
Moreover, hotels and resorts on the way to shrines wear a deserted look now. Operators said in April their bookings and occupancy used to cross 90 per cent earlier. “We have less than 20 per cent bookings this time,” said a hotel staff.
However, exuding confidence that the pilgrimage would start in the first week of May as always, Rawat said if the weather is good, they will be able to finish more work. “You will see roads. They may not be the smooth ones you are looking for, but our aim is to start the yatra anyhow. Despite all odds, the yatra will be safer than ever,” he explained.
Rawat also said the administration will use technology to ensure 24x7 mobile connectivity on the entire route of the yatra.
However, BJP leaders, like former chief minister B C Khanduri and Ajay Bhatt, are not impressed. “If the government manages to start the yatra, I will congratulate it. But that does not mean sending three to four vehicles. The roads are very bad,” said Khanduri.
Bhatt added that the chief minister had failed to get a special package for the state even though he was part of the central group of ministers. “There are 278 villages whose applications for rehabilitation are still pending. Nothing has happened in these villages. There is no blueprint for rehabilitation. Almost 6,000 km of roads are still in bad shape and 9,000 electric poles lie damaged,” he told Deccan Herald.