Rehabilitation of Uttarakhand disaster-affected top priority for new chief minister

People displaced by floods and landslides last summer spent harsh winter months in makeshift tents

By Soma Basu
Published: Tuesday 04 February 2014

Union minister Harish Rawat who has now taken over as the chief minister of Uttarakhand has said that rehabilitating people affected by the flood disaster last year would be his top priority. Failure to tackle post-disaster relief and rehabilitation is seen as a major reason for the ouster of former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna from the post.

Even after seven months of the Uttarakhand floods, that left the state  crippled and destroyed much of its infrastructure, people are still awaiting rehabilitation. They spent the severe winter months in makeshift tents; the roads that were washed away by the floods are still either non-existent or not negotiable. There were also frequent media reports of mismanagement and embezzlement of rehabilitation funds, leading to widespread resentment among residents.

With Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and Aam Aadmi Party stepping up their campaign against Congress, Rawat's appointment as the chief minster of the state is being seen as an attempt save the five Lok Sabha seats in the state, ahead of general elections.

The move would have helped if top national leaders of the Congress had taken the decision in September 2013, when the clamour for Bahuguna's resignation began, say some Congress leaders in the state. Uttarakhand goes to Panchayat elections in March and with model code of conduct coming into force soon, questions have been raised about the possibility of Rawat achieving much in the short time left for elections.

When Bahuguna was made the chief minister of Uttarakhand in March 2012, Rawat had been very vocal in expressing his discontent. During the June disaster when the state government was getting flak for late response to floods and the chief minister and his cabinet ministers using helicopters meant for relief and rescue to give media persons sorties to Kedarnath, Rawat was visiting remote villages on the India-Nepal border of Pithoragarh, which suffered much more damage.

“Only a magic want can save Congress, at least in Uttarakhand. Let us see whether Rawat has it,” says Shamsher Singh Bisht, a veteran activist and social movement leader of Uttarakhand.

NIDM report on visit to Alaknanda Valley, Uttarakhand Himalaya

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