Gods have spoken, mortals fail to hear
by Sandhya Jain on 13 Aug 2013 14 Comments

How does a civilisation born in the deep meditative silences of Himalayan caves and verdant forests, which touched the peaks of material abundance in the valleys of silt-laden rivers, shrug aside a sacred legacy like some youthful indiscretion? The shameless commitment of Uttarakhand’s political leadership to the builder lobby, its determination to rescue the dams and ‘development’ that wrought the havoc, its cussed indifference to human and animal suffering, has kept divine rage boiling.


The gods are virtually retreating from the Dev Bhumi, taking their temples with them and denying darshan at teerthas. The Mahabharata lists the names of several kings who brought shame and ruin upon their people; we live in such disgrace and ignominy today.


Largely ignored by the media, the Himalayan rivers continue to froth and seethe. The Kailash Mansarovar yatra was stalled, and then officially called off on August 1. The same day, Almora sub divisional magistrate Ajay Arora slipped from a makeshift bridge and fell into the raging Mandakini; a jeep carrying four officials from Agastyamuni in Rudraprayag district also fell into the river. On August 2, the famous Manikarnika Temple in Uttarkashi was swept away by the Bhagirathi, in the holy month of Shravan, a clear indication of divine wrath.


Ajay Arora died while returning from a forced recce of the Kedarnath shrine; a pointless death caused by a callous political leadership in Delhi, which, mindless of ground realities and priorities, is forcing early restoration of pujas even as rotting bodies are still being recovered around the temple; 48 bodies were extricated on August 10 alone.


The inclement weather and shattered hillsides rule out movement of heavy equipment to the area for a long time to come. In fact, the Geological Survey of India has expressly renewed its warning against clearing boulders at the site as this will create fresh tremours along the fragile hill slopes. But the Chief Minister, who owes his job to despicable servility, has prioritized this task instead of arranging relief for the still unreached remote villages.


Arora’s wife said he was forced to go on this risky assignment even though he was sick and had applied for medical leave. But normal decencies were brushed aside amidst reports that the Congress high command intends to visit the area, possibly on September 11, during the Ganapati festivities, when pujas will be forcefully resumed.


Nearly a month after the disaster, the witless regimes in Dehradun and Delhi have still not realised that the only way to reach the cut-off villages is to get trained mountaineers with full gear to carry medicines and food supplies to the people – on foot, or by rope pulleys, if these can be erected. This is not a task for run-of-the-mill NGOs; all private bodies collecting relief in the name of Uttarakhand victims must be asked to desist from doing so, and hand over all their collections to the State.


Even the so called experts in the National Disaster Management Authority do not realise this is the only way to reach assistance to the starving people and trapped animals. Nor is there any consciousness of the need for a separate mountain relief force to handle future calamities. Some heads must roll for this callous indifference to the tragedy still playing out in the hills. In these circumstances, the true death toll will never be known, for who will tell the truth about people dying from official apathy and negligence?


How many animals have perished as official attention is confined to Kedarnath, though the road is still unapproachable? The heavy equipment and rock breakers of Engineering Projects India Ltd, commandeered to remove the debris around the shrine, are stuck in Guptkashi deu to rains and low visibility. Unbelievable as it sounds, this heavy equipment is to be pushed to Gauchar, where it will be dismantled and loaded into helicopters and flown to the shrine, to demolish and clear the damaged structures around it. It is rumoured that a ‘baba’ has convinced the Congress leadership that it will return to power if puja is resumed at Kedarnath, notwithstanding the stench of rotting human and animal flesh.


Teams of the Geological Survey of India and Archaeological Survey of India have been put on notice to clear the area on priority basis, though it is known that this is impossible in the short time available for the September 11 deadline repeatedly asserted by the Chief Minister. Even if weather permits, this is the task of several months, not weeks. And when the rains end, winter and heavy snow will cut off access to the shrine.


The State Government has already cancelled the annual Kedarnath yatra for the next three years. Hence, the question arises, when the utsav doli of Kedarnath was swiftly taken to the winter abode of Ukhimath by the Raval (traditional priest) who ensured non-stop worship of the murtis despite the calamity, why is Vijay Bahuguna risking human lives to restore puja in the now ghost township? Will it not violate tradition to worship Shiva at Kedarnath when He has taken up residence at Ukhimath, or will the Ukhimath puja be curtailed even when the deity is present there?


The danger of further degrading the environment is also being ignored. The pertinent question is - where will the enormous debris of an entire township be disposed off? It cannot be removed by helicopter. Obviously, it will be dumped into the Ganga, as was the practice of the builder-dam lobby, which unleashed the apocalypse. We are clearly heading for a disaster of insurmountable magnitude if this madness is not stopped immediately.


No scientific plans are being prepared to prevent such disasters from recurring. The Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology has warned that human activities like pilgrimage and tourism will trigger similar disasters in future, unless scientifically managed. Kedarnath is circled by streams of the Mandakini and Saraswati whose natural flow was affected by overcrowding. Once reconstruction activities begin, care must be taken to ensure that downstream constructions adhere to environmental norms.


Meanwhile, locals say the goddesses remain in an unforgiving mood and will not calm down until the disturbed murti of Dhari Devi is restored to its original place and alignment. The State Government must bite the bullet, scrap the proposed Shrinagar power plant, and attend to the task of placating Devi with urgency and humility.

The Pioneer, 13 August 2013 

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