Imposing a blanket ban on construction of houses and commercial establishments along the banks of rivers, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna on Monday announced setting up of a statutory body to look into planning and development of the flood-hit areas of the state.
The Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority, to be chaired by the chief minister, will take into account safeguards required to face the challenges that may arise in coming decades for the state, which witnessed unprecedented death and destruction in the June floods.
Bahuguna, who made the announcement in Dehradun at a conference on Monday, said the decision was taken by the state Cabinet considering the massive damage caused by the calamity in different areas across the state.
"The authority will consist of experts from different fields," he said.
Bahuguna, however, refused speculate on the casualty figures in the calamity, saying bodies are yet to be extricated from the huge quantity of debris lying in affected areas and the whereabouts of over 3,000 persons reported missing after the tragedy are yet to be ascertained.
"In a situation like this, being the chief minister I would prefer not to quantify a figure. Police officials who have visited the affected areas say 500-600 bodies are visible, many may be lying underneath heaps of debris and many reported missing are yet to be found," Bahuguna told media persons when they asked Congress in-charge of Uttarakhand Ambika Soni to clear the air over conflicting casualty figures doing the rounds.
The Cabinet also decided to revise the norms for relief and rehabilitation in the wake of the colossal tragedy by widening the ambit of beneficiaries ranging from small kiosks to 'dhabas' to big hotels, Bahuguna said.
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, who also addressed the conference, described it as a "progressive and significant step which will inspire confidence in people".
The authority will ensure transparency in the utilisation of large funds to be received by the state government from the Centre and other sources in development of the affected areas.
Apart from a package of Rs 1,000 crore announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for reconstruction and rebuilding efforts, Rs 2,500 to 3,000 crore more is expected from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for the purpose, Ramesh said.
In view of the present circumstances, it has been decided to give Rs 50,000 to one lakh to small kiosks and 'dhabas' damaged in the deluge and Rs two lakh to hotels completely demolished, the chief minister said.
In case of damages worth Rs 2 lakh to 10 lakh to commercial establishments, 30 per cent of the damage will be compensated, while 20 per cent of the total losses will be reimbursed in case of damages worth Rs 10 to 20 lakh and 10 per cent for losses totalling over Rs 20 lakh, he said.
Hotels, guest houses and commercial establishments along the banks of the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi, the tributaries of the Ganga in Rudraprayag and Uttarkashi districts suffered extensive damage in the recent calamity.
Other important decisions taken by the Cabinet included exemption of affected locals from repaying loans taken from cooperative banks and nationalised banks for one year and supplying free of cost 15 kgs each of rice and flour, 5 kg of pulses, 3 kg of sugar, one litre each of refined and mustard oil, salt and spices and 10 litres of kerosene to each affected family inhabiting areas that are totally cut off for one month.
Students up to intermediate standard will be given a one time compensation of Rs 500 each while students of polytechnic and degree colleges will get an amount of Rs one thousand as one time compensation, Bahuguna announced.
The chief minister said, "Though the law of the land says missing people cannot be declared dead even seven years after they go missing, in public interest we have decided that compensation money will reach the next of kin of those who went missing in this tragedy if they are not discovered in a month's time."
While Bahuguna on Sunday said the exact number of people killed in the tragedy will never be known, Speaker of Uttarakhand Assembly Govind Singh Kunjwal said it will be over 10,000.
Soni, from whom the question had been asked at the joint press conference, said she had spoken to the Assembly Speaker asking him about his statement on casualties feared in the calamity.
"I asked him whether he had any basis for the remark he had made. But he only said people say so," Soni said.