The news report that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi helped in the evacuation of 15,000 Gujaratis from Uttarakhand in two days has come under fire from various quarters. Even if one disputes the figures, Modi's detractors can learn how the entire operation was handled meticulously. Sheela Bhatt reports.
A controversy has broken out after a newspaper report that gave huge credit to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi for leading the team that managed evacuation of 15,000 people, during his two-night stay in a hill state of Uttarakhand.
A Non-Resident Indian has even petitioned the Press Council of India for “serious violation of media ethics” for reporting that hugely helped Modi to reinforce his image of being a good administrator.
On Monday, the Gujarat government, when contacted by rediff.com, refused to confirm or deny the exact figures of Gujarati pilgrims helped by the Modi government. However, in an off the record briefing, the officer who was a part of the supervisory team gave factual position of what Modi and the government officers did.
"What all of you are not understanding is that after the Kutch earthquake, the Gujarat government has acquired the capability and more importantly, sensitivity to deal with any kind of disasters. Why should we not share our knowledge with the devastated state? That is real federalism according to Modi,” he said.
He added, “Modi’s critics don’t appreciate that everyone woke up only two days after, but we got the advantage because we anticipated the calamity as soon as the news of cloud burst was reported. Also, I can say with authority that the Gujarat government has done everything with the help of the Uttarakhand government and through the state machinery of Uttarakhand. We refuse to criticise the state government."
He said the actual figures of evacuation of pilgrims by the Gujarat government under the leadership of Modi will never be known because the chartered Boeing planes made five trips to Gujarat from Dehradun, there were hundreds of other cars, buses and trucks engaged by the government.
It’s impossible to count the exact number of pilgrims because, “We had firmly decided that at no point of time pilgrims should crowd the base camp in Haridwar, Dehradun or New Delhi. In case of an emergency, a large congregation can create other issues. Our aim was to rescue the pilgrims, give them food and some counseling and arrange for their transport and move them out of the affected zone.”
Of course, all those helped by the Gujarat government were not Gujaratis, he says.
For example, a group of 10 holy men from the Sivagiri Mutt in Kerala were also trapped. They contacted Modi and they were also located in the mountains and rescued. Modi had visited the mutt last April. The senior officer narrated the sequence of events after the news of cloud burst was reported in the Kedar valley.
“Modi was camping at the Gujarat Bhavan in New Delhi, on the night of June 17. The next day, he was to attend the annual plan meeting. We had an emergency meeting at night to take stock of the situation. Gujaratis have deep faith in the ‘Char Dham yatra’ so we knew that there will be easily more than 20,000 Gujaratis in Uttarakhand. Only common sense was needed to understand the issue,” he said.
Most Hindu Gujarati families dream of visiting Kedarnth-Badrinath and Gangotri-Yamuontri once in a lifetime. It’s a part of the Hindu family tradition. There are hundreds of Gujarat-based tour operators who specialise only in the ‘Char Dham’ yatra. Sometimes, rich families book an entire train to take relatives on the yatra.
On June 17, the camp office was opened at the Gujarat Bhavan. Then, one more camp office was opened right inside the control room of Uttarakhand government. On the same day, Modi asked his officers to enquire with Uttarakhand government the status of the Gujarati pilgrims.
The Uttarakhand government said that the Kedranath and Gangotri routes were facing deluge, floods and landslides. On the morning of June 18, three officers of the Delhi-based resident commissioner's office were asked to co-ordinate and help the Gujarati pilgrims.
Soon, these three officers found out that more than 40 people were stuck in the Kedarnath temple. In spite of information of the location of Gujarati pilgrims it was difficult to co-ordinate at Dehradun.
In no time, mobile numbers of Uttarakhand’s collectors, deputy collectors and disaster management officers were found out and circulated. As soon as information from Gujarat arrived about the missing pilgrims, the government officers knew whom to contact in Uttarakhand.
A system was set up for passing the information to the right person in the field. Also, on June 19, an advertisement in Gujarati papers was given about the available help of the government with all relevant telephone numbers.
On the same day, Modi wrote a detailed letter to Mallikarjun Kharge, the railway minister, requesting him to arrange for special trains. Modi requested that the railways should not charge the fare and serve free food on trains because people had lost everything.
Senior officers of the Gujarat government started writing letters to the Uttarakhand government from June 18 onwards. In one of the letters written on June 18, they gave details of the 94 pilgrims lost somewhere in mountains of the Kedar Valley. But, soon officers understood that by writing letters, things won’t move.
So, more than 25 officers from Gujarat were sent along with doctors to Dehradun on June 19. Modi gave a cheque of Rs 2 crore to Uttarakhand when not many people had an actual idea of the disaster, said the officer.
The officer said, “We received first request from Gujarat’s agriculture minister to help 27 pilgrims of the ‘Jaishree Ambe Ma Pariwar’. We forwarded it to Dehradun.”
Dhirubhai Patel was the first Gujarati pilgrim whose death was officially reported from Uttarakhand. The officer handled his body and helped his relatives with the cremation.
“Until June 20, we were coordinating individual cases, but when Modi went to Uttarakhand, the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cadres got galvanised. For the saffron cadre, Modi is next to God. His presence made the difference,” said the officer.
“In his presence they started the rescue work with vigour and helped in locating victims. They knew the local terrain so they could guide victims to take the shortest route to reach safe places,” he added.
The figure of evacuation of 15,000 pilgrims in two days can be surely doubted, but Gujarat state team’s drive and talent to handle the disaster cannot be.