Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat on Monday sought to absolve himself of responsibility for human remains being found in the Kedar Valley three years after the 2013 disaster, putting the blame squarely on his predecessor Vijay Bahuguna on whose orders search operations had been winded up.
“Those shouting from rooftops about the state government’s failure to carry out a proper search operation should pose this question to the then CM who stopped the combing and not me who resumed it,” Rawat told reporters here without taking names.
The first round of combing operations was launched and concluded during the tenure of Rawat’s predecessor Bahuguna, who is now in the BJP. Rawat said it was strange that combing operations meant to look for bodies in the wake of the massive tragedy were winded up without giving much thought to the possibility of skeletal remains still lying underneath lakhs of tonnes of debris brought about by the flash floods.
The chief minister also took credit for the latest recovery of human skeletal remains from a forest adjoining atrek route between Triyuginarayan and Kedarnath, saying they were first sighted by a team of trekkers who had undertaken the expedition as part of a programme called ‘Hito Pahad’ conceived by the state government.
He said a team constituted under the leadership of Garhwal IG Sanjay Gunjyal has so far recovered 31 skeletons from the area which are being consigned to flames amid necessary Hindu rituals after formalities like DNA sampling. He said the ongoing combing operation will be carried out at Triyuginarayn and areas close to it for the next ten days.
However, the Chief Minister made it clear that considering the massive scale of the tragedy it would never be possible for any government to confidently say that this was the last human skeleton recovered.
“I had said even earlier that there may be skeletons still lying under lakhs of tonnes of debris lying in the area.
The possibility can never be ruled out. Even when the ongoing combing operation concludes we cannot say with full confidence that we have found the last human remains,” Rawat said.
The Chief Minister said that when he took over in February 2014, he was faced with the twin challenges of either scouring the jungles of Kedar valley to recover more bodies or take up the task of infrastructural reconstruction in the Chardham area to put the state’s economy back on track.
“I chose the latter and took a risk. However, I am happy to say this with satisfaction today that my efforts have paid off and we have been able to give the message of a safe Uttarakhand and Chardham Yatra to the outside world – a fact corroborated by the ever rising number of visitors to the four Himalayan shrines located in the state. We have set ourselves the target of taking this number to 30-40 lakh by 2018,” he said.
He also claimed that the state government had single handedly carried out all the reconstruction work in the Kedar Valley and other affected areas out of its own limited resources as the Centre had never given a helping hand.
“We haven’t received even one fourth of the relief package of Rs 8,000 crore approved by the Centre so far. Still we took on the massive challenge of reconstruction out of our own meagre resources and achieved a fair amount of success,” Rawat said.