Uttarakhand Flood Disaster: An unnatural, man-made tragedy – Shankkar Aiyar

Kedarnath Temple

Shankkar Aiyar“The sthapathis of the Kedarnath Temple ensured the temple and its placement was in harmony with its environ. The collapse of the new structures around it reflects the illiteracy of greed. Early pilgrims respected ecology and traversed much of the Char Dham by foot. Today’s yatra-neophytes believe in penance powered by four-wheel drive. This seven-seater MUV influx worsened the poor infrastructure. The lure of lucre fuelled construction, and lives were precariously lodged on river banks in the state located predominantly in a landslide zone. Who is to blame, the penitents? Political correctness be damned, should there be no limit on the numbers trampling in and out? And if the state did want to prosper on the pilgrim purse, is it not obliged to plan?” — Shankkar Aiyar



Shiva in the Ganga at RishikeshIn India, everything that can go wrong usually does go wrong. Tragedy is never purely the outcome of fate, of uncontrolled events. Government action—rather, its lack—is frequently the cause of aggravation of consequences. The tragedy at Uttarakhand is about the fury of nature. It’s the causative; the consequences though are aggravated by sloth, complicity, criminal negligence. That a nation that can send a spacecraft to the moon couldn’t reach relief to Kedarnath for four days, that a week after the tragedy Indians don’t yet know how many perished proves the state of disaster risk management.

The tragedy of Char Dham was waiting to happen. The cloudburst and subsequent impact was simply the proximate cause. Uttarakhand has witnessed man-made disasters and natural calamities in four of the past seven years. It’s an active seismic zone, prone to earthquakes. It’s prone to landslides, given its riverine geography, avalanches and hailstorms. The state is nestled in India’s ecologically fragile zone and is the hub of temple tourism. Neither the geography nor the cultural context can be changed. But the risks can be better managed. Yet, every ‘Don’t’ in the book was ‘Done’.

Kedarnath linga in silt with bilva leaves.The visuals streaming out of Kedarnath vindicates the wisdom of earlier generations. The sthapathis of the Kedarnath Temple ensured the temple and its placement was in harmony with its environ. The collapse of the new structures around it reflects the illiteracy of greed. Early pilgrims respected ecology and traversed much of the Char Dham by foot. Today’s yatra-neophytes believe in penance powered by four-wheel drive. This seven-seater MUV influx worsened the poor infrastructure. The lure of lucre fuelled construction, and lives were precariously lodged on river banks in the state located predominantly in a landslide zone. Who is to blame, the penitents? Political correctness be damned, should there be no limit on the numbers trampling in and out? And if the state did want to prosper on the pilgrim purse, is it not obliged to plan?

The tragedy in Uttarakhand is symptomatic of a larger malaise. India is one of the 10 worst disaster-prone countries of the world. Of its 35 states and Union Territories, 27 are disaster-prone. Over 58 per cent of the landmass is vulnerable to earthquakes, over 40 million hectares—or 12 per cent of land—is prone to floods and river erosion. Of the 7,516-km-long coast line, 5,700 km is prone to cyclones and tsunamis, 68 per cent of the cultivable area is vulnerable to drought, and hilly areas are at risk from landslides and avalanches. The combination of natural and human-induced factors—adverse climatic conditions to environmental degradation fuelled by non-scientific development practices accompanied by a burgeoning population—make the risks worse.

Bhuj India woke up to disaster management post the earthquake (even though the seeds of the idea were embedded in the 1968 Civil Defence Act). In 2004, it formulated the idea of a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and empowered it with requisite legislation in 2005. The NDMA, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, was reviewed by the CAG between May 2012 and September 2012. Its findings submitted in March 2013 explain the chaos witnessed over the week.

  • The National Executive Committee of the NDMA which is supposed to meet every three months had not met between May 2008 and December 2012, and there was no advisory committee since 2010. This impacts evaluation of disaster preparedness.
  • The National Plan for Disaster Management had not been formulated till September 2012, six years after NDMA Act 2005, and there was no provision to make guidelines binding on states in preparation of state plans.
  • Only eight states have prepared emergency action plans for 192 dams as against 4,728 dams in 29 states, and inflow forecasts critical to mitigate risks from floods are available for only 28 reservoirs.
  • None of the major projects taken up by NDMA were completed.
  • The National Database for Emergency Management, which was to be completed by August 2011, was yet to be operational in September 2012.
  • Shelters on river banks are a serious risk but a 2004 draft plan for amending rules on construction in vulnerable areas—particularly for quake, flood and landslide-prone areas—approved in 2007 is yet to be formalised.

And there is more. The reason why the rescue teams were using satellite phones of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Army is because six years after the receipt of the equipment, the satellite communication network is not functional. The cloudburst could not be forecast or sighted because the Doppler Weather Radars bought for surveillance of severe and weather system is paid for but yet to be operational. The National Disaster Communication Network and the National Disaster Management Informatics System are still in the planning stage, seven years after conceptualisation. The army and ITBP had to be called in because NDRF is hampered by shortage of manpower. Worse, only seven states had a State Disaster Response Force.

And so, as after every disaster, this unstated question: what would India do without the men in uniform—the heroes of every season. – The New Indian Express, 23 June 2013

» Shankkar Aiyar is the author of  Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change. Contact him at shankkar.aiyar@gmail.com

Indian Army pilgrim rescue in Uttarakhand.

Indian Army is the only source of help in Uttarkhand.

Mandikini River below Kedarnath.

26 Responses

  1. Hats Off To Army Men

  2. knowledge!! good

  3. hats of to the soldiers!!!!nice wrk!!

  4. hats off to the indian army

  5. I m feeling proud because hw r indian army brave and so kind to the passangers who r in tragedy.. and I SALUTE THEM….. i have seen that they make a emergency rope bridge with army men for the peoples by lying across it as flooring in uttarakhand…
    THANK YOU… :.) :.) :.)

  6. It’s have great informatin.

  7. was sphatika lingam found?, what is the status of samadhi?, truly saddening

  8. I SALUTE THE INDIAN ARMY !!! I SALUTE THEM FOR ALL THAT THEY HAVE DONE FOR THE PEOPLE IN NEED .I SALUTE THEM FOR THEIR COURAGE ALSO.

  9. Kedarnath Temple opens Sept. 11, 2013
    Kedarnath Temple re-opens on Sept. 11th, 2013

    Rawal Bhima Shankar Ling Shivacharya
    Kedarnath High Priest Rawal Bhima Shankar Ling Shivacharya at opening of Kedarnath Temple, Uttarakhand, on Sept. 11, 2013

    Kedarnath Temple opens after 86 days – Mid-Day, Mumbai, 12 Sept. 2013

    Thirty priests performed the puja in the presence of office bearers of the shrine management committee, representatives of the Shankaracharya, officials and local legislator Shaila Rani Rawat.

    Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna was scheduled to take part in the puja but inclement weather forced him to abort his travel plans to Kedarnath. Guptakashi and Kedarnath areas were hit by rains Wednesday morning.

    The temple was decorated with flowers, and the nearby platform and other places which were damaged in the June floods, were covered with marquees.

    The priests first performed “shuddhikaran” (cleansing) puja, after which the deity at the sanctum sanctorum was bathed in milk, holy water from the Ganga river, and other items were used in the puja of Lord Shiva, state government officials said.

    Hundreds of people died in the floods in Uttarakhand in June. Over 160 bodies were found near Kedarnath last week alone.

    The date for opening the temple was fixed in August at a meeting between government officials and the temple management.

    Officials, however, said it would take some time before the temple is opened to the public. This was because the approach roads to the temple are in bad shape and would take a long time to rebuild, an official told IANS.

    The temple premises were cleared of debris and the bodies over the last two months.

  10. thanks for information

  11. Indian Army Uttarakhand

    Emergency rope bridge with army men lying across it as flooring in Uttarakhand.

  12. Dhara Devi

    EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been copied from the FB account of Alpana Agarwalla Bhartia at https://www.facebook.com/alpana.bhartia

    KALI’S ANGER

    Kali Torso at Dhara Devi

    This may sound like a story from a comic book, but it is not so – its reality that most people today like to ignore and push aside as superstition. The fury of the goddess is well known and any attempt to instigate her would lead to great destruction. Let us look at the events leading to the great devastation of Uttarakhand by flooding of Uttar Kashi.

    The government has tried to build up dams to overcome the power shortage. This has been opposed by locals and some prominent politicians like Uma Bharti and B. C. Khanduri of the BJP since it would lead to the submergence of the Shrine, and efforts to construct dams have been delayed indefinitely. Previously, in 1882, an attempt to shift the shrine was immediately followed by havoc in Kedar Valley. There is some strange connection between these guardian goddess and the Kedarnath jyotirliñga.

    The Joint Temples

    These are not just any other Shakti temples, they are among the 108 Shakti Pitha mentioned in the Devi Bhagavat. Dhari Devi is a temple on the banks of the Alaknanda River in the Garhwal Region of Uttarakhand state, India. It houses the upper half of an idol of goddess Kali specifically called “Dhari Devī” that, according to local lore, changes in appearance during the day from a girl, to a woman, and then to an old lady. Perched atop a 20 metre high rock, the temple of Dhari Devi is situated on the banks of river Alaknanda. One has to travel a distance of 19 kms. from Srinagar (Pauri Garhwal) on Srinagar-Badrinath highway upto Kaliya Saur, then down trek another half a kilometer towards Alaknanda river. According to a local legend, the temple was once washed off by floods, while floating the idol struck against a rock, the villagers heard the cries of the idol. On reaching the site they heard a divine voice instructing them to install the idol as it was, on the spot it was found. Since then the fierce looking idol remains where it was, known as Dhari Devi, under the open sky, and thousands of devotees on the way to Badrinath pay their obeisance to it. The temple of Dhari Devi in Srinagar hosts only the upper part of idol of Goddess Dhari, the remaining lower part is believed to be in Kalimath in Rudraprayag district. It is believed that the idol of Dhari Devi shall not be put under roof. For the same reason, the idols in Dhari Devi Temple are put under open sky. Taking photographs of Dhari Devi idols is strictly prohibited. The village near the temple is name after Goddess Dhari and known as Dhari Village. A hanging bridge over Alaknanda river connects the Dhari Devi Temple to Dhari Village.

    Now, the lower half of the idol of Kali is located in Kālimaṭh Temple. These joint temples are exactly at NE-SW direction (see adjoining image) symbolising Kali as sleeping with her feet in NE direction and head in the SE direction.

    This causes the energy to flow in the NE direction, which in jyotiṣa, is the direction of Jupiter (Iśāna Śiva), the parameṣṭhi guru. The upper part of the devī with the head symbolises the calming of Kali by Śiva, the Guru. The lower part of Kali is not in the form of an idol and instead, is worshipped as the Śrī Yantra. In this manner we learn that the Śrī Yantra, as established by Ādi Śaṅkara at Kālimaṭh, is the yoni of Śaktī from which all creation proceeds.

    The Kedarnath jyotirliñga is exactly north from Kālimaṭh (see adjoining image) symbolising the husband-wife or Śiva-Śaktī relationship. In this Kedarnath being to the north (Mercury direction for ahimsa) is constantly calming the devī who is in the south (Mars direction, anger, agitated and at war).

    On June 15th, 2013, the idol of Dhara Devī was removed to be shifted to another location to facilitate the construction of the same dam, which locals were opposing ever since the conception of the project with the belief that the moving of the Dhara Devī would somehow agitate Kali. They were right in their belief as any movement would lead to a change in the angle of the Dhara Devī and Kālimaṭh, besides altering the distance. There are energies we human beings do not understand as yet and it is best to let these spiritual shrines where these energies are contain, be maintained.

    With the shifting of Dhara Devī, the agitated Kali has been woken up, and she seeks the demon Raktabīja (seed of blood). As per mythology, Raktabīja took various bodies and she continued to destroy each one. Primarily this indicates unimaginable bloodshed and death. Exatly on the next day massive cloudburst and flash floods started in Uttarkhand and even today, when official (?) death figures are at 1000 (identified people/bodies), the unofficial figures is way beyond 5000 deaths and more are still following as the rains are returning.

    Urgent

    Restore the idol of Dhara Devī (Kali torso) to its original shrine and start the prayers that calm her down. Shri Yantra sādhanā has to be maintained at Kālimaṭh and Bael leaf must be offered to Kedarnath. If this is done, then Kali will calm down and the agitation of nature will stop. If this is not done, then the agitation of Kali shall spread throughout India and this will prove to be one of the worst years in the history of modern India.

  13. Uttarakhand: Thousands missing as rescue mission nears finish – The Week – Guptkashi – Friday, June 28

    Guptkashi/Gauchar: As the mammoth rescue operations in the Uttarakhand disaster neared completion, around 2,500 survivors remained to be evacuated in Badrinath and Hershil Thursday but concerns grew over the fate of 3,000 people who were reported missing.

    Amid fears of epidemic outbreak, the focus shifted to retrieving bodies buried in debris and expediting mass cremation of more victims in Kedarnath town, which bore the brunt of destruction from floods and landslides after heavy rains pounded the hill state nearly a fortnight back.

    Hampered by intermittent rains, rescue efforts in multi-agency operations continued throughout the day with over 1,000 stranded pilgrims from Badrinath and 511 from Harshil being evacuated, 12 days after the rain fury, a state official said. Air sorties by choppers were halted for a few times during the day due to bad weather.

    A total of 1,04,095 people have been evacuated so far, according to NDMA Vice Chairman M Shashidhar Reddy.

    Sixteen more bodies of victims who perished in the disaster in Kedarnath were consigned to flames in the second round Thursday, according to Ravinath Raman, a senior IAS officer who is overseeing the mass cremations. Yesterday, 18 bodies were consigned to flames to kickstart the mass cremation.

    Chief Secretary Subhash Kumar said more bodies will be cremated in batches after completion of all formalities like their identification and preservation of their DNA samples.

    A second team of doctors, forensic experts and police personnel has left for Kedarnath to complete the formalities, he said.

    Around 2,500 stranded people are still waiting to be evacuated but rescue operations in Kedarnath are over, ITBP Director General Ajay Chadha told reporters in Delhi.

    With the Army, IAF, ITBP and NDMA fine tuning strategies to bring the rescue mission to an end, Lt Gen Anil Chait, General Officer Commanding in Chief (GOC-in-C), Central Command expressed confidence that “Operation Surya Hope” could be wrapped up in the next few days.

    Reddy, on his part, hoped that the rescue operation would be completed by tomorrow while Subash Kumar said the rescue operations will have to be stepped up Friday.

    At a news conference in Dehradun, Kumar said about 3,000 pilgrims are still missing.

    The rescue operations and the mass cremation process have been affected because of bad weather, DIG Sanjay Gunjyal said, adding that the formalities for the cremation of the victims were also taking time.

    The Health Department has warned people in adjoining areas near Kedarnath not to consume river water as it may be highly polluted.

    With the air thick with foul smell of decaying bodies in the area adjoining the Kedarnath shrine, the department has expressed apprehensions about spread of various diseases.

    “We are now quickly cremating the bodies which have been recovered. But given the scale and nature of the tragedy, there is a likelihood that many bodies could still be lying in open spots, where rescue personnel have not been able to find or reach them,” Ravikanth Raman, nodal officer of rescue operations in Guptkashi, said.

    Reddy at his news conference said that 560 people have died in the disaster, 476 injured and about 344 people are still missing.

    Reddy’s figures are lower to official estimates of 822 people having lost their lives in the rain fury.

    The Centre, meanwhile, said no outbreak of any water, food or air-borne disease has been reported from the flood-affected areas of Uttarakhand.

    A three-member high-level committee from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is in Dehradun to review the public health situations with state health authorities. The team had left Wednesday.

    “No outbreak of water borne/food borne/air borne or direct contact diseases has been reported from affected areas,” said a Health Ministry statement.

    The Chief Secretary said relief material is being made available to people in affected villages besides those at the relief camps. The process of restoring disrupted water and power supply lines in the affected villages is also going on at great pace.

    Relief material was also being flown in a fleet of more than 40 choppers to distribute them among residents of villages from where shortage of foodgrain has been reported, officials said.

    There have been reports of people facing shortage of foodgrain, electricity and water in affected villages causing anxiety to authorities which are not yet through with the process of evacuating stranded pilgrims.

    A report from Rishikesh said angry kin of people from Rajasthan, who went missing after the calamity, burnt a banner put up by the state government at its relief camp near the bus stand in the city and clashed with media personnel.

    Their grouse was that they were getting no information about their missing relatives from the officials deputed for the purpose or the media.

  14. Dwarka Acharya
    Sri Swaroopananda Ji is the Shankaracharya of Jyotimaya Peetha, Badrinath.

    Jyotirmath Shankarcharya’s view on the Uttarakhand flood diaster — Sheela Bhattin in New Delhi — Rediff.com — June 22, 2013

    In a twist to people’s understanding of Uttarakhand’s monsoon mayhem, Dwarka peeth Shankaracharya Swami Shree Swaroopananda Saraswati has blamed the sex-food-fun oriented consumerism propagated by tour operators in the land otherwise known as “dev bhoomi” for the plight of thousands of pilgrims.

    In a telephonic interview from his ashram near Haridwar, the Shankaracharya told rediff.com, “Uttarakhand is the land of gods and goddesses. Here Lord Shiva holds Ganga in his jata (hair). It is the highest tapsaya (penance) possible. Shiva bore the force of the Ganga all alone so that she can flow seamlessly. How can you have honeymoon tourism in Uttarakhand instead of pilgrimage to cleanse the soul and attain nirvana?”

    Asserting that these mountains were not for the newly-married to enjoy their honeymoon, the religious leader suggested that the disaster was also brought upon due to the dams that have been built on rivers of Uttarakhand.

    He said, “I want government to find out the sphatik statue of Shankaracharya’s samadhi near Kedarnath temple. It is part of our heritage. I am deeply pained to see so many deaths. I want the government to act now and stop promoting dubious tourism. There should be complete ban on building of dams as well.”

    Hailing the Kedarnath temple as a national monument, he said: “The rest of India should help Uttarakhand maintain its environment. The lack of development will create shortage of electricity, but the rest of India should supply electricity in this divinely natural region. We must protect our ancient rivers at all cost. Seventy percent of the water from Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers will deplete if we build dams recklessly.”

    The Shankaracharya also said that the government should clean the temple complex as soon as possible.

    “The government must cleanse the Kedarnath temple with panchamrut (A mixture of milk, curd, clarified butter, honey and sugar). It is time to repent for our wrong deeds.”

    Ganga at Rishikesh June 2013


    Flood victim survived by hanging from Kedarnath temple bell — PTI — FirstPost — June 24, 2013

    Dehradun: For 36-year-old Tehri-resident Vijender Singh Negi, hanging from the Kedarnath temple bell while standing over floating corpses in neck-deep water for nine straight hours proved a life saviour.

    While the house of god sheltered him from the nature’s fury, the agonising nine hours spent between the divine and the dead still haunts him, according to his relative.

    Negi’s brother-in-law Ganga Singh Bhandari, a Delhi-based travel operator, said seeing him return alive was nothing short of a miracle and tells how the “dead saved Negi’s life”.

    “He stood hanging from the temple bell from 7 am to 4 pm, the day after the disaster struck. He stood on corpses to balance himself. His clothes had been torn to pieces by the water’s fury but he somehow withstood the force hoping to come out alive,” Bhandari told PTI. Bhandari’s hotel located right beside the Kedarnath Temple got washed away in the torrent in front of Negi’s eyes, even as he jumped out of the building. “My brother-in-law (Negi) jumped off from the roof of our three-storeyed hotel into the water, before finding shelter in the temple. He saw hundreds of corpses floating inside,” Bhandari said.

    “He has big ulcers on his hands. Not only the nine hours proved excruciating, he battled to stable himself hanging from the temple bell as the water’s force tore his clothes apart rendering him in a state of nature,” he said. “As he held on to the bell for hours, his grip began to lose. Dead bodies were floating besides him. So, to gain balance he stepped on to floating bodies to withstand the testing hours,” he added. “As his clothes were torn to pieces, he took clothes from the bodies around him to shield his almost naked body.

    The thought of it still sends shivers down his spine. “After the level went down he climbed out of the waters and lay in the jungle for two days before the army helicopters rescued him,” he said. “His family in Tehri could not stop crying when they saw him alive. He has little children. It was god’s grace that he returned from the jaws of death,” he said.

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