It takes time to respond to calamity of this nature: Bahuguna
In an interview with CNN-IBN, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna claims to have full confidence of his party amidst demands for his resignation for failing to respond to the calamity in Uttarakhand.
Transcript of the interview
Demand for resignation
“A very irresponsible statement without being fully aware of the magnitude of the problem and the gigantic efforts made by the state administration, the Army and the other agencies. Other states have also faced such calamities and such a demand was ever made or raised by any political leader of this country.”
Allegations of delay in response
“Not at all. The calamity struck us on the night of 16th and 17th and the warning was on 18th. The agencies were already in motion and 37,000 sq km area was affected. The Army, the Air Force and NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) had to coordinate. When the calamity is of such a nature you do take some time to respond, even in the event of a war.”
Criticism from party leadership for failure to respond to the calamity
“That is a part of politics. I'm not bothered about the adversaries within or outside the party, what they are saying. I'm focused. My commitment is to give back to my people, rehabilitate them, do what best can be done for them to the best of my ability. In politics nothing is certain. But my party general secretary Ambika Soni was here, we had a meeting and the entire party was in one voice in this hour of crisis to help the people in distress.”
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'Modi offered to rebuild Kedarnath temple but we denied'
Ignoring the MeT warning
“The chief secretary has given the response to that. I will stick to his statement. A prediction of heavy rain in the hills is very common. You have to be very specific, the area has to be specific. There was no warning about any cloud burst or glacier overflowing. When there is a warning of heavy rain people stay in houses, but the state is not evacuated.”
“Now it's the time to have a system which is more specific and clear, and we will do our best to install such systems.”
“I'm not joining any issue with anybody. We are in the middle of rescue and rehabilitation. We can examine all these and find out what better ways we should have to meet such exigencies. This is a natural calamity, the day we will have a system to predict the cloudburst, Tsunami and earthquake I think we will capture the nature.”
Politicising the rescue operation (denying Modi’s help)
“I think he is misinformed. Mr Modi is kind enough to come here, meet me. I know him very well. He has offered me 5 crores and I've sent him two letters of thanks. He said he’ll send two teams of doctors. I said if I needed I would ask for it. Only thing, he wanted Gujarat to build up the temple. I said the Kedarnath temple is our pride and identity. The Uttarakhand government is capable enough to strengthen the temple and clean up the entire vicinity, and put up a new temple with the help of the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and the environmentalists.
“The other thing he offered to send is his own helicopter to the affected areas to pick up the people from Gujarat. Such request had come from other state CMs also. When people are stuck you can't segregate them into states. All rescue operation will be controlled and coordinated by the Army and the state administration. So we had given then tokens and the people were using these choppers by the numbers given to them. I can't allow a parallel rescue operation by any state government or even by my own government when the rescue operation is being carried out by the Army and Airforce.”
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Image: The KedarnathTemple is pictured amid damaged surroundings by flood waters at Rudraprayag
'Rahul Gandhi was not favoured and no rule was bent'
Rahul Gandhi’s visit and controversy of using ITBP establishment
“No, this is not the time where we would like to politicise it. You know the hilly terrains. We don't have helipads. In the very adverse condition the brave pilots build up the helipads. Even I was stuck for two hours while flying. While these helipads were being used for rescue and evacuation we did not allow anybody to land, even the home minister of India.”
“The prime minister and Rajnath Singh took an aerial survey only. I was landing at these helipads because I wanted to monitor. When Rahul Gandhi came, he drove from Dehradun to Gauchar, then to Kasauti. When he landed at the helipad the entire operation in the Kedar valley had come to standstill. So it was not being hampered. The media people were going, general people were going. If a leader comes and wants to land at a point where no rescue operation is going on, you should not take it as if the state government went out of its way to please one and not to please the other.”
“The entire operation at Badrinath was being carried out from Gauchar. Gauchar has a huge ITBP complex. I used the ITBP facilities because that's the only place from where you can monitor. These are the places from where rescue operation was being carried out. So all the leaders used the ITBP facilities. You should not read too much into it and say some particular person is being favoured or a rule is being bent. Looking at the magnitude of efforts made, we should ignore this issue. I would like to ignore this even if anybody raises this issue.”
Official figure of missing and dead
“Any declaration has to be supported by fact. In the entire Kedar Valley from Kedarnath to Gaurikund the bodies were littered. The ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police), NDRF and my state teams had spotted around 500-600 bodies. Some bodies were recovered from downstream. The bodies recovered or visible were around 500-600. The complaints of missing were received from all chief ministers and their offices. I'm grateful to all the CMs for their help and putting up camps here. The total number of missing compiled combining the missing complaints from my state and other states is 3068.”
“My fingers are crossed. I pray to the god and there is a little hope left in the families. For these 3,068 people an intensive search was done by my government and the respective state governments. The presumption in law is a person is deemed to be alive for 7 years if his body is not recovered. But for the purpose of compensation, we will wait for 30 days and then the respective state governments have been asked to send their lists, and I will have our list. Then only I can give you exact numbers, they will be presumed to be dead and I will pay the compensation in accordance with the procedure.”
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Image: A villager crosses a road damaged by a landslide due to heavy rainfall in Gauchar
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters
'No new development will be allowed on the banks of the river'
The illegal constructions on riverbed
“All the cities, ancient Uttarakhand and modern Uttarakhand, all the cities are on the banks of the river -- Karnprayag, Rudraprayag, Srinagar, Haridwar. In my tenure in the last 15 months I've not allowed a single building to be built on the banks of the river. Today we have passed an emphatic law, the Uttarakhand reconstruction and development authority, which will be a statutory body.”
“The buildings collapsed were of the local people. Who granted the permission for these building is being inquired. I can only hold brief for my tenure, not for my predecessors. But now a very firm law is being passed, and no new development will be allowed on the banks of the river.”
Slow response from the state government
“No state government has the resource to meet calamity of such magnitude, whether it happened in Odisha, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu or Ladakh. We are a small state, what are our resources? Rs 25,000 cr is out budget or this 17,000 cr is non plan expenditure. Do you think I have the force to give an immediate response? Even the Army with its 15,000 strong personnel was thinking for a long time to plan the operation and rescue. The entire mountains have collapsed, hundreds of roads have broken.”
Rebuilding the state
“Be a friend of my state. Tourism remains the backbone of my state economy but that's now destroyed. I have to put it back on fast track. I've a very firm mind. We have to learn from it. How much load the infrastructure can take, for security concerns, for movements? There will be definite plan. We are working round the clock to build the roads, bridges. We will put all the system in order and adhere to all advice coming from various channels.”
Image: The floods in Uttarakhand
Photographs: Courtesy: Indian Army