Dehradun, July 1: The exact number of people dead or washed away may never be known, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna said as estimates of casualties in the worst natural disaster in the state run from several hundreds to several thousands.
"We will never know the exact number of those dead and the number of people who have been buried or washed away," he told PTI in an interview.
State Assembly Speaker Govind Singh Kunjwal had stated on Saturday that the number of those killed could breach the 10,000 mark but the Chief Minister had said the figure was incorrect.
"There are 500-600 bodies which are visible, not only in Kedarnath area, but also in the entire state," Bahuguna said as Uttarakhand makes a difficult limp back to normalcy from the tragedy.
In the interview, the Chief Minister dismissed criticism about the state government's handling of the situation and suggestions that it was a man-made disaster. Bahuguna said as far as people from the state who are missing are concerned the district authorities will work on that. "For the victims of my state we will give the compensation and put them on fast track."
Army personnel set up a new bridge
Border Road Organisation and army personnel set up a new bridge over Alaknanda at Lambagar in Uttarakhand.
Relief distribution underway
Relief materials being distributed among the local people at Saudi village in flood-hit Kedar valley, Uttarakhand.
Collecting body of ill-fated pilgrims
Uttarakhand police and NDRF personnel collect bodies of pilgrims from different places in Kedarnath.
Mass cremation underway
Uttarakhand police and NDRF personnel carry out mass cremation of those killed in Uttarakhand flood in Kedarnath.
Final farewell for inspector Bhim Singh
ITBP jawans pay final farewell to inspector Bhim Singh at his funeral at Bobiyan village in Kathua district in Jamm. He was killed in the rescue helicopter crash in Gaurikund.
Help flood victims
A sand artist creates a sand sculpture on Uttarakhand disaster with the message "Help flood victims" at Puri beach in Odisha.
Guard of honour
Indian Air Force personnel accord guard of honour to JWO Akhilesh Kumar Singh during his cremation at Deeh in Amethi on Saturday. Singh was killed in the recent rescue chopper crash at Gaurikund.
Rescue act in Badrinath
ITBP personnel rescue people in Badrinath.
Rahul Gandhi meets braveheart's kin
Congress Vice President and local MP Rahul Gandhi meets the family of Indian Air Force JWO Akhilesh Kumar Singh who was killed in the recent rescue chopper crash in Amethi.
As for those who are from other states they should lodge complaints in their state, he said. "If the states confirm to Uttarakhand that people from their states had come on pilgrimage here and that these number of pilgrims should be presumed to be dead and have not come back, we will accept their version and the compensation amount will be paid to respective chief secretaries for distribution to victims of the respective states," he said.
"There is a DIG rank officer (Mr Gunjiyal) who is up there in Kedarnath and has been assigned the task of cremation of bodies. The process of cremation is on. The bodies which were lying on the streets (have been taken for cremation). A number of bodies are stuck in the buildings where they were living but for them (to be extricated) you require some machines. Some JCB machines are being made available," Bahuguna said.
Bahuguna said the Air Force and PWD were deciding on the design and make of JCBs which will be carried on choppers to these places.
"Bodies which are in Rambada no one can reach (them) but the question is what do we do to them so that the environment is not polluted. Some chemicals and powder have to be used."
Asked about the criticism over the response to the disaster, he said the response from the Army and the government was very prompt.
"There was no delay. Only because of bad weather and connectivity problem it took time for them to reach. But when they reached and the very fact that thousands were evacuated and in the last so many days more than a lakh people were evacuated without there being a law and order problem, the credit should go to the state government that there was no law and order problem."
He said there were more than 200 villages where there is no connectivity and these have to be rehabilitated. A survey is being conducted for this and experts will be consulted.
"Food will be sent to these villages. Work is in progress. We are dropping food so that these villages can sustain themselves for two months. Relief material is being parked at the district headquarters."
The Chief Minister said in a week's time mule paths will be made in all the locations so there can be some connectivity."No village will be left out where relief will not reach. That is our priority. It will take time as you cannot make proper roads during monsoons.
"I don't agree with this that it is a man-made disaster. Calamities are not in our control. I cannot control tsunami, earthquake or cloudburst. What can I do in such a scenario is how can I save my people. Calamities are not under our control...what can be the plan, we can do scientifically (is being done)."
Bahuguna said steps can be taken to mitigate a disaster and its effects. "What has happened in Kedarnath, there was a lake which overflowed. Mandakini changes its course, is that man-made?
"Cloudburst in Ladakh, is that man-made? Tsunami and earthquakes in Japan, are they man-made? And mitigation and such measures should be in place not only for Uttarakhand but all Himalayan states..they are fragile mountain ranges."
Asked about reports of molestation of women pilgrims and loot and spiralling of prices, he said spiralling of prices were always there in monsoons whether it is Delhi or in Uttar Pradesh.
The Chief Minister said the government has not received any complaint of rape or loot. No police station has received any written complaint, he said. "If there is such a thing I would request the affected persons to lodge a report so that we can act. Strict instructions have been given to local administration that effective steps should be taken to protect women."
On the criticisms, he said, "We will do a post-mortem. "Let's get over this phase and then I am open to a debate with anybody. And I am open to all such suggestions which are good and in the interest of my people. I am not a rigid man..I am not a block-headed man. I have no ego problems."
"I do not feel hurt by criticism. But those who propagate views should also listen to views of others. What we are saying is what is the voice of the people of Uttarakhand."
On development versus protection of environment debate, the Chief Minister said, "Some say don't make roads let them (people) go by foot. Don't make constructions, but we say make roads this way. Do construction this way...we don't want to go back to 15th or 16th century.
"If roads are fragile we will make tunnels in the hills. You can give us money for infrastructure but you can't say there will be no roads now. If you can't give me roads give me tunnels. The state has to move on. We can't go back to the 14th century."
He said the damage has been in several thousand crores of rupees and tourism, backbone of the state, has been hit.
"My first priority is to restore connectivity and restore the confidence of the people of this country so that they continue coming to the land of gods and warriors.
"We have received a shock and we have to overcome this by our determination, will power. And that is not lacking in me or my officers. We are in shock but this shock has not put us in coma but it has given us more determination and more will power to restore things as they were."