Exit of CMs, natural disasters mar Uttarakhand in 2021

Uttarakhand 2021: 'Superspreader' triggers scare, natural disasters kill scores, CMs shown the door

The state also saw three chief ministers at the helm during the year

A view of Raini village, following the glacier burst in Joshimath causing a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river, in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Credit: PTI Photo

The BJP and the Congress in Uttarakhand were shaken by a spot of rebellion this month. But that was nothing compared to the tremors the state faced earlier in 2021 – the unceremonious exit of two CMs, a Kumbh Mela that attracted the Covid superspreader tag, and a flash flood that killed 200 people.

Also during the year, the Supreme Court gave its go-ahead to the Centre to widen roads to the Char Dham pilgrim sites, and priests won a fight against the setting up of a state board to control major shrines.

The Gartang Gali, a wooden bridge built by Pathans from Peshawar 150 years ago at an altitude of 11,000 feet in Uttarkashi on the route to Tibet, was restored. And old, traditional trekking routes to the Char Dhams were rediscovered.

The state saw three chief ministers at the helm during the year.

Trivendra Singh Rawat, who was preparing to celebrate four years in office, was removed by the BJP’s central leadership as it geared up for the assembly polls in early 2022.

Pauri Garhwal MP Tirath Singh Rawat, was brought as his surprise replacement in March. Just days into his term, the new CM triggered a row with a remark frowning on women wearing ripped jeans, and also famously said India was ruled by the US for over 200 years.

Rawat himself was replaced by Khatima MLA Pushkar Singh Dhami, less than four months after assuming office. Barring Congress veteran N D Tiwari, no Uttarakhand CM has finished his five-year tenure. But Rawat made a sort of record with the shortest stint.

He was the chief minister when the government went ahead with its controversial decision to hold the Kumbh fair in Haridwar on a grand scale amid the raging coronavirus pandemic.

Covid norms like wearing were blatantly violated and social distancing was nearly impossible as as devotees choked the ghats. Infections surged after the `shah snan’ days.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stepped in, appealing to the “akhadas” to wind up the event.

Later, a Covid testing scam surfaced. A Noida-based private laboratory roped in by the state government allegedly conducted a lakh fake Covid tests on devotees. After a probe by a special investigation team, the lab owners were arrested.

Covid also cast its shadow on the Char Dham yatra to the shrines at Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath for the second consecutive year.

The pilgrimages started months late. But as the Covid wave subsided and the restrictions were lifted, the annual yatra picked pace. Over five lakh pilgrims visited the shrines this year.

Under pressure from the priests, the contentious Uttarakhand Devasthanam Board Act was withdrawn to free from government control 51 temples, including the Char Dham shrines. Priests had termed the law an infringement upon their traditional rights.

PM Modi visited Kedarnath to unveil the statue of Adi Guru Shankaracharya and lay the foundation stone for the second phase of reconstruction of the area, devastated by landslides and floods in 2013.

The year 2021 too brought natural disasters.

On a Sunday morning in February, a glacier broke off in Chamoli district, triggering a sudden flood in the Rishi Ganga and Dhauli Ganga rivers.

Tonnes of debris hurtled downstream, demolishing the 13.2 MW Rishi Ganga hydel project at Raini village, the cradle of the Chipko movement, and also slamming into the NTPC's 520 MW Tapovan-Vishnugad hydroelectricity project, where men at work were trapped inside a tunnel.

Altogether, 204 people went missing. Only 81 bodies and 36 human limbs were pulled out of the choked tunnel.

In November, a second catastrophe struck. Rainfall for three consecutive days demolished houses, washed away roads, bridges and railway tracks in Garhwal and Kumaon regions. About 80 people, including trekkers, were killed.

The Supreme Court allowed the widening of roads for all-weather access to areas where the Char Dhams are located, largely agreeing to the Centre’s national security argument that they were strategically important.

Environmentalists, however, warn that the construction has the potential to cause devastation on the fragile Himalayan slopes.

The state paid tributes to Gen B S Rawat, the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff and an Uttarakhand native. It also remembered martyrs on the 50th anniversary of the 1971 India-Pakistan war.

With the assembly polls now just weeks away, political parties eyed voters from the state’s military families.

The ruling BJP conducted an emotional campaign collecting soil from the courtyards of martyrs' homes for the construction of a memorial in Dehradun, and the Congress honoured veterans at a rally addressed by party leader Rahul Gandhi.

The Aam Aadmi Party, which is offering itself as an alternative to the Congress and the BJP, has already projected retired Army officer Ajay Kothiyal as its CM candidate.

Both the main parties recently suffered anxious moments, but moved quickly to deal with the first signs of a rebellion.

Harak Singh Rawat left a state cabinet meeting in a huff after it did not clear a proposal for a medical college in his Kotdwar constituency, triggering speculation that he had quit as a minister. CM Dhami brought him around.

In the Congress, the party’s campaign head for the state, posted a series of cryptic tweets suggesting that he was not being treated right.

The voice from within, the former CM said in Hindi, sometimes tells him, “It’s enough Harish Rawat, you have swam long enough, it’s time to rest.”

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