President Patil visits flood-ravaged Leh, promises timely help from armed forces, govt.

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Leh (Ladakh), Sep.1 (ANI): President Pratibha Patil visited flood-ravaged Leh in the Ladakh region on Wednesday and reviewed ongoing relief and rehabilitation efforts with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, Minister of New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah, Jammu and Kashmir Government officials and senior Indian Army and Indian Air Force officers.

Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had earlier received Patil at Leh Airport.

During her visit lasting a couple of hours, the president stopped at one place where she was told that the damaging effect of the August 6 cloudburst was the highest. She also visited a rehabilitation camp run by the army and non-governmental organizations, and interacted with survivors of the natural calamity. She distributed shawls and sweaters to the affected people.

The August 6 flash floods triggered by a cloud burst devastated large parts of Leh. At least 183 people, including 35 army men, 18 Nepali and Tibetan workers, three French, one Spanish and one Italian tourist were killed. Between 200 and 500 people are still missing.

Lauding the determined and courageous efforts of security forces and expressing appreciation for their determination in providing relief to the distressed through their ongoing rehabilitation drive, President Patil told locals that the whole nation was with them.

During her rousing speech, Patil said that visits by the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, to the sites that were destroyed by the cloudburst and their promises of providing prompt relief, was proof of the administration's keenness to rehabilitate the dispossessed at the earliest.

She also said the presence of the armed forces in Kashmir was required to neutralize all internal and external threats.

Union Minister of New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah when asked how the relief and rehabilitation drive in Leh was progressing, given the ongoing disturbances in the Kashmir Valley, told ANI TV: "All three districts of Kashmir are equally important - Srinagar, Jammu and Ladakh. At present, in Ladakh, we have to ensure that everyone is provided with relief and is appropriately rehabilitated. We have set October 15 as the deadline for completing our relief and rehabilitation efforts."

On his part, Omar Abdullah echoed similar views, saying the state government has redirected its efforts to providing complete relief and rehabilitation to those affected by the August 6 cloudburst.

"650 homes have been completely damaged; 620 homes are partially damaged. In the first phase, we have to restore these damaged homes and rehabilitate the people who have been affected by this tragedy. Thereafter, the restoration of shops and business establishments will be the second part of the rescue and rehabilitation effort," said Omar Abdullah.

Replying to question posed by Pashe Dorje, an affected victim of the cloudburst, on what steps was the government taking to restore check dams to prevent a recurrence of floods in the region, Omar Abdullah said: "Houses are being restored and repaired, and nullahs (wide ditches) will also be fortified."

He also said that the process of moving flood affected victims from tents to repaired houses has begun, and added that insofar as cash and aid compensation was concerned, 202 residents from Leh had received them, while in Kargil, 218 had been benefited. He also promised the recipients that their cheques would be encashed at the earliest.

Responding to another question on the impact of hartals (shutdowns and strikes) on people in the Kashmir Valley, and how influential was Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani in instigating Kashmiris to take part in such agitations, Omar Abdullah candidly admitted that Geelani had control over some elements responsible for these disturbances, but reiterated that his government was determined to restore normalcy and public faith.

When asked whether he felt that the situation in the valley and in other regions of the state was spinning out of control, he firmly replied: "Absolutely not."

He said that it was important to review the situation on ground in all three regions from time to time.

When asked why children were taking part in the stone-pelting demonstrations in Srinagar and South Kashmir, and whether security forces were targeting them as well as others, Omar Abdullah again replied "Absolutely not, children are not being targeted. Children have no business to be on the streets. Their parents should keep the children off the streets. If the children are on the streets, taking part in demonstrations and protests, then their parents are at fault, not the security forces or the state government."

He also used the occasion of his visit to appeal to the protesters and agitators to spare hospitals and schools. He said that if school building were not attacked and destroyed, children could attend to their studies rather than being on the street. Hospitals, he said, should not be attacked, as they must be available to treat the injured.

Apart from dignitaries present for the president's visit, there were representatives from the Ladakh Scouts, the Signal Corps, the Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (EME), the Ordnance and the Mahar Regiment.

Lt. Gen. B.S. Jaswal, General Officer Commanding of the Indian Army's Northern Command, who was recently denied a visa to visit China as part of a military delegation, was also present during President Patil's visit to Leh.

It maybe recalled that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced a grant of Rs.125 crore during his visit to Leh on August 17. He had also announced Rs.100, 000 as ex-gratia relief for the next of kin of those who died in the calamity and Rs.50, 000 each to those injured.

Flash floods and mudslides have swept the road links and bridges in the area. The deluge has damaged hospitals, schools, government buildings, bus terminals, radio station transmitter, telephone exchange and mobile-phone towers.

Five villages Sabu, Phyang, Nimoo, Choglumsar and Shapoo were the worst hit by the flash floods. Old Leh city was also among the worst affected. By Smita Prakash (ANI)

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