INTERVIEW with Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna for Teekhi Baat on IBN7
PC: In this time of disaster, the whole country is with you, has supported you, but there are some short comings from your government’s side?
VB: The natural disaster is so devastating, and spread across a huge 37,000 square kilometer, which we call as Himalaya Tsunami, and for my state with a meager budget of Rs .25,000 crore, to face this disaster, and has a non plan expenditure of Rs. 16,000 crore, at a time of such tragedy, the whole country, central ministers, the whole council of ministers, whole government, army, ITBP, NDRF, at such a time, government means the organizations of the whole country, and if you segregate each unit, like counting government to be separate, municipal corporation to be separate, army to be separate, when we all worked together and everybody has done an appreciable work. Be it district administration, state government, all defense forces, so that we could evacuate 1.10 lakh people and send them back to their houses. The tragedy was big, the challenges are big, work is too long, we want everybody’s co-operation.
PC: You are saying it is a very big disaster; this is what the whole world knows. But your state government knew about the geographical conditions in the state, that there could be floods anytime, cloudbursts anytime, I do not think that you must not be knowing how many people are trapped in the state, three weeks after the disaster, how many are dead, missing, doesn’t this show that the state government’s machinery is not at all ready
VB: Everybody has own point of view to understand the situation. Today, the condition is, the dead bodies that are seen by army, NDRF, our police, they are saying that the numbers are between 500-600, the number of people missing, a total of 3068 complaints have been received by the state government, we have complied missing reports sent by other states, in today’s date, 3068 people are missing. We have taken a decision, that till July 15, the missing people, do not come back, we will presume them to be dead. We will tell you the figures on 16th. The relief would be distributed to the families from 16th. We cannot do guesswork because this is not a time to estimate. We have to base things on facts. You should know that we have also filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, am not and would not be in favor of hiding, for not disclosing something; I will acquaint the nation with the prevailing condition. Today the condition is that 3068 people have not come back to their homes.
PC: 3000 people have not reached, but you have not announced officially how many people are dead. So many tourists come to your state, there is no system which tells you how many people had gone towards Gangotri side, near Kedarnath, you have no figure.
VB: Till date we don’t have a monitoring system, lakhs of travelers come here. There was no monitoring to see which person has gone where. Now there is a need, we have taken decision, to see how many load infrastructure can take, what can be the permission set, we will do it. But in a state which has lakhs of travelers, we don’t have a wherewithal to find out the whereabouts. But the missing persons would be counted as dead. Regarding the dead bodies, the conditions are so bad in the Himalayan disaster, that even the army is facing problems reaching places, NDRF is not able to reach, the dead bodies cannot be recognized, now we are doing DNA tests, so that sampling can be done. But the number of dead from Uttarakhand state, from Rudraprayag are under 600, but I will say that the total number of dead in the disaster would be between 3000 to 4000 unfortunately.
PC: You have told that the UNO agency said that 1200 are dead, your speaker said 10,000 are dead, you environment minister said 5,000 are dead, which means there is no unanimity in your state government. Like the country was disconnected from Uttarakhand, and with so many villages disconnected in Uttarakhand, your state government has no way to find out.
VB: As a chief minister I cannot do guess work, am acquainting you with the prevailing condition. I have said that will not brush anything under the carpet. I have numbers of bodies on which last rites are being performed, the number of dead bodies seen, the numbers of missing dead bodies. If any other agencies have facts, I will request them to send it to the state government. This issue should not be of debate, there is no scope of politics on this issue. The prevailing condition would be known after July 16.
PC: In today’s date, you are not in a position to say how many people area dead, missing. Hence rumors are spread, numbers estimated and you call it politics, which is from both sides.
VB: Am not making it a political issue. This is a very big disaster, many people have lost many things, are troubled, have suffered losses, the deaths are painful. People who do not reach home till July 15, the missing reports received from all states, on that basis the number of dead would be found. It may be possible, that somebody is alive and may reach back home. But all state governments sent their officers here, state government’s helped us, our state government’s officers are also working, we are getting survey done in villages, after July 16, the Uttarakhand state government will release official figures.
PC: Why didn’t you declare this is as national calamity, three days you were in Delhi, was it your mistake not to get it declared as national calamity, so that you could get requisite response to counter such a calamity.
VB: I was with the Prime Minister for mere two hours and spoke about the prevailing conditions in the state. You would know that I have been a lawyer and hence good at representing. Got assistance from the central government, but now I don’t know who is imagining these fake things. Two times the home minister came to the state, and with respect announcing national or regional calamity, the state is getting the assistance that it should get. All agencies, every ministry of Government of India is providing assistance. And Prime Minister and UPA chairperson have themselves said that the state would get assistance for building infrastructure and future development, and are already getting currently.
PC: Don’t to think an incident in which the whole Kedar ghati was devastated, in which crores of people have belief, don’t you think it is a national calamity. 4000-5000 people are dead or may be dead.
VB: If there is difference in relief works, see in whichever state, Tsunami has struck, but national calamity was not announced anywhere, and If the state government feels that it is not getting the financing and other assistance properly, and if there is a difference of parameter in natural disaster and natural calamity, then we will think on that, now we are doing relief and rescue work, struggling against the environment. We can have a discussion on this issue after some time but home minister has said that whatever assistance the state needs, it will get, this is Prime Minister has told.
PC: You have restored electricity in 3000 villages till now, made many roads, in past three weeks, government has announced 1,000 crore, out of which you may have got Rs. 200 crore till now, the people of the country are ready to give more than that. Do you think Rs. 1000 crore can solve your problem. You say the state has a budget of Rs .25,000 crore, it seems you may need Rs. 50,000 crore for reconstruction, do you have an estimate.
VB: This is a misconception, Prime Minister has given an interim relief of Rs. 1000 crore, this is not final relief. Estimates are being asked from different departments, regarding which department has suffered how much loss. The central government teams would come, NDMA member Duggal is also stationed here, certainly one will arrive at an estimate, there is no guesswork, the department of PWD, irrigation will work it out. One will need a lot of money for irrigation, has all the rivers have changed their course, which has resulted in a lot of losses. By the end of this month, the state government will give the central government full figures, regarding the losses faced by us. Border roads organization has suffered, many roads near border, be it Gangotri, Badrinath, where 200 settlements have been washed away, buildings have fell, farms devastated.
PC: Even after three weeks you do not have an estimate of the losses, many villages are disconnected even now, if army’s assistance was not available, the state government would not be able to do relief and rescue works. It seemed that the state was in a state of total paralysis.
VB: No state government has a capability to face such a big calamity. In Gujarat, army woked, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim too, you are not acquainted with the geographical conditions prevailing here, where till today, army and NDRF jawans are not able to reach. This is a difficult terrain, till we don’t reach villages, repair pipelines, one hydro station is submerged under water. And when figures are sent to state government, we have to make a correct estimate. Now are priority is not estimate devastation, but to do relief work, restore connectivity to villages, 42,00 of them were disconnected, today merely 400 are left to be connected. We are busy in relief work, so that people can get supplies, give mental treatment to people who are in a state of shock. Our immediate priority is not to take funds from central government, we have funds, chief minister’s have sent aid, with all humility I am saying that we have announced compensation in the wake of disaster, in a manner which no other state government has done. No issue connected with the state’s development will be ignored.
PC: You said about difficult terrain, but in America when such incident happened recently, the whole system was restored in nine days, even when their train system was flooded. You knew such problems could happen in Uttaranchal, but your government was busy with power plants and setting up industries but not ready to face natural calamity.
VB: This may be a thinking of some person, but it is a pre-conceived notion. The could burst over Himalaya, river flooding, 330 mm rains, earthquake, tsunami, if it is manmade, then it means that human has become god. We can’t avert such situation. The question is how we can reduce the amount of damage that such calamity brings. I have said this or any other state government does not have resources to face such a calamity. Area, roads got cut off, one cannot reach, hence planes, helicopters were used, state government does not have helicopters, air force planes came, who did evacuation work, even today there are helicopters where DM’s are there, the weather is so bad even now, that we are not able to deliver food via helicopters, even horses cannot go. It is very difficult situation, I was to go to Joshimatt, but the weather was bad and helicopter could not fly there. People are risking their lives and working, our Air Force people were martyred, 19 people from police force died, I have made an legal authority for Uttarakhand redevelopment. I have made a team for advising on calamities, which includes generals, environmentalists, geologists, and am in favor that the Himalayan states should have a similar policy, for tourism, energy, roads, employment, farming, a Himalyan Development Corporation be formed under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, which should have chief ministers. For unemployment, due to the calamity, planning should be done, otherwise migration would happen. I have made environmentalists, for making a gross environmental product report, which we would submit to the planning commission this time. The other thing is that for the past 100 years, population is settled around river in various areas, river is changing course by 500-1000 meters. In coming years, planning for 100-200 year should be dine, how Himalayas should be. One should also think about people living in Himalayan villages, if we are made economically backward, our tourism would be diminished, unemployment would increase, everybody together should make a policy.
PC: You say politics should not happen, but it is happening. Politicians from every state came to Uttarakhand, who talked about giving money to your state, you don’t have a mechanism to channelize the funds when the whole country is with you to help. Opposition’s is attacking you saying that the government wants to take stance showing that the Congress should do everything, nobody else.
VB: With humility I would like to tell you, I have sent letters to each chief minister thanking them. All chief minister would have send funds for chief minister’s relief funds, we have deposited them. Every chief minister who came and said that their state government’s would like to extend help, I have welcomed it. Every chief minister has sent his officers here. I have got co-ordination done between their and our officers. Uttarakhand government has not taken a stance in any manner to show that it is discriminating against anybody giving assistance. Even today Punjab’s Prakash Singh Badal had come here, he gave Rs. 10 crore, I have thanked him. I don’t know from where this misinformation spread that Uttarakhand is engaging in politics in accepting relief aid. We are from land of gods, land of gallants, and the kind of character and co-operation that nation has shown with us, even the coming generations of Uttarakhand would be able to thank them enough. It is a misconception, I have not declined to take help from chief minister of any state. I thank them again and again, I don’t know from where these issues are rising and a political angle is being seen in the thing.
PC: It is said you allowed Rahul Gandhi to get down in affected areas of the state, but did not allow chief minister’s to do so, this has been printed in news papers, I do not know how true it is. It was written Rahul Gandhi got down at a place where he should not have, other chief minister’s were not allowed to alight. Are these things true?
VB: I would like to thank you first for giving me an opportunity to clear the misinformation that is being spread. When this calamity happened, you would know that we don’t have helipads on mountains. And small helipads were made with rudimentary equipments, on which helicopters landed. When Prime Minister ,Soniaji came, they did aerial survey, didn’t get down. BJP President Rajnath Singhji came, he did aerial survey, the day Narendra Modiji came, that day the home minister was also present, even the home minister was not given permission to land by the air force and army, our administration didn’t give permission because rescue operations were going on those helipads then. This is the talk of the Kedar ghats, between Kedarnath and Gauri Kund, I was alone who used to alight at some places to see if things are running right. The day Rahulji came, rescue operations were on happening on the helipads on the Kedarnath belt, and on just helipad, he got down for 15 minutes, this did not affected rescue, nor any public interest was affected, and to compare it to previous days, a time when senior leaders were not allowed to alight, we have to understand when rescue operations are happening, then how risky is it to alight and how much it would be against public interest. We allowed people alight, media men went in choppers, we allowed minister from other states to go, Rahul Gandhiji, is a parliamentarian, our party vice president, if he stopped at someplace for 10 minutes, there was not issue but unnecessarily it was raised. I have given you clarification, in the earlier days, when home minister was also present in Uttarakhand on the same day, even he had not got permission for landing, because rescue operations were one. Home Minister and Modiji’s were in Uttarakhand on the same day.
PC: Did Rahul Gandhi know beforehand that rescue operations were not happening at that place, hence he went there. Even other chief minister’s would have wanted to go
VB: Who ever asked permission to land, whenever rescue operations were not going on, they were given permission. The day Modiji’s came, he met me, I thanked him, that day we did not allow anybody to get down from chopper. When Rahulji was here, that day rescue operations were not going on the helipads, where he got down at one place. Hence to make it a big issue, we have humbly thanked everybody who has helped us in this calamity. Where is the question of politics, media men came here, I sent them to Kedarnath, and our Home Minister was not allowed to get down at Kedar Nath. It is a question of the country, there are emergencies, exigencies, and operations were being conducted by air force, army and NDRF. Nobody felt bad, Modiji didn’t feel bad, this people spreading and printing ‘spicy’ news have made it an issue. But leaders understand and anybody of them has not complained to me.
PC: On Modiji’s behalf it was claimed, Modiji’s himself didn’t claim, that 15,000 Gujaratis were saved, if he would not have come, 15,000 Gujaratis would not have been saved, your state government would have been unsuccessful in rescuing, hence he rescued and took them. What is the element of truth in this? You should have full information.
VB: This is totally untrue. Their officers were here, the majority of people from Gujarat who were stranded in Badrinath, were taken care of by our state administration. And the total of number of people in Badrinath would not have been the number which is being said. Because, the total evacuation has been of 7000-8000 people tourists, hence the news that was printed is not based on facts. First of all such a thing is not possible, and so many people were not there in Badrinath, total evacuation in Badrinath in past 15 days has been 7000- 8000 people. Majority of people from Gujarat were in Badrinath.
PC: Kedarnath temple has been there since centuries, you said it will take three years to start Kedarnath yatra again, don’t you think your statement has impacted of so many people of India, is the state government so weak that it would take so much time to start yatra again.
VB: Firstly, I have not announced any timeline. See, tourism is our backbone of our economy. And today I can say that Badrinath, Yamonotry, Gangotri, in three months were will open roads, so that yatris can go there. Our hill stations of Mussorie, Almora, Nainital, they are open, there are no problems there. In Kedarnath, the debris if of 7-8 feet, and the walking track from Gaurikund to Kedarnath, that is completely damaged, not only damaged, it does not exist. Now we have to remove debris first, we are consulting GSI for that, because big stones have come there, an ASI team would go to see the damage happened to the temple, people from Wadia institute would go, now we have to strengthen the temple, build the surroundings, make road, we will work on war footing. There is nothing like three years, we would want it to happen as soon as possible. But we have to keep in mind people’s security and safety. We have to make infrastructure which addresses concerns of geological and environmental concerns. For this we need everybody’s help. Modiji told me that people of Gujarat and he wants to build the whole area, I told him humbly that Kedarnath is our identity, we will make it with ASI’s help, and that time that anybody from India, be it government or any organization, from the country or abroad, wants to help, we will accept it. We will open as fast as possible, and when we can ensure safety on Kedarnath route. We have good law and order, 61 per cent public of the state is overseen by revenue police, patwari police officer who is doing police work for the past 80-100 years.
PC: How much time would you take
VB: I would want it to be done as soon as possible. Many clearances would be needed, there would be involvement of many ministries, central-state. Now we are not able to clear debris, open roads, there are problems in performing last rites dead bodies. When we remove the debris from temple surroundings, and when the team of experts arrives, we will leave it to them, we can provide wherewithal, money, but how the time schedule, program would be formed, that the specialists would decide. We leave it to the team. But we will request them so that Kedarnath yatra can be opened at the earliest. On the question of Pooja, we have spoken to saints-mahatma’s,
PC: Some internal party people are sabotaging things, there is division, some people who wanted to become chief minister earlier, but could not become. Different statements are coming from party. Opposition is demanding your resignation, there are hushed talks in Delhi that you have failed there, so much goods which come there are not being distributed, they are lying on road, hence it is an inefficient government there.
VB: The goods that are being distributed via government agencies is in ware houses. What private people are bringing, they do not consult the government, they go via their will. But supplies are happening from our warehouses, am monitoring things, doing video conferencing. And as are internal issues are concerned, which party is there in the country, where these issues are not there. And I can tell with confidence that we have done meeting with Congressmen, MLA’s, MP’s, our general secretary have come and congress is united in doing rescue works. There is no issue because of which our mind would be diverted or we digress from our aim of relief. The whole congress is together, as far as opposition is concerned, that is their free will to talk, but when they sit in front of us and talk, we will show them the appreciable work done by state government in two works, they have to accept that. Yes, there are difficulties, even today we cannot drop relief material via helicopters, man, horse reach there, weather is bad, but we have wherewithal, plan of action, only the weather should support us, in the coming times, I would invite you to come with your team, see how big was the calamity and to what extent we helped people. In politics what may or may not happen tomorrow is no issue today on which I am paying attention. I am focused on relief and rehabilitation, help.
PC: There are so many helicopters, planes in the country, everybody were ready, why didn’t your government and the central government deploy them for 24 hours, don’t you think that number of deaths would be less then.
VB: No deaths happened after the deaths which happened on the day of calamity. There is a limitation of helicopters, I told you, and helipads are small, five helicopters can enter in one valley, the state government took 16 helicopters on rent, and we couldn’t deploy our existing force because in Kedarnath, only one helicopter can land, only four helicopters can land in Badrinath, only two can go in Harsil. Hence, the kind of valley and helipads are there, and army helicopters are very big, cannot go everywhere, private choppers went, there was an aerospace team for air movement, it is not that if we had more helicopters, things would have happened faster, there is a limitation of air space, how many will enter an exit in a valley. Hence, people who talk of these things don’t have knowledge about air operations. And the kind of rough terrain, mountains, this is not Delhi to Bombay that aerodromes are there and 200 airplanes can stand. There are limitations, one has to sent fuel, how to supply fuel to the helicopter is stuck, when all roads were cut off. One cannot walk 50 km in Uttarakhand, the way in which fuel was sent to helicopters, the way in which helicopters have flown. Work done by civil and air force pilots, they were dare devils, they have staked their life. Hence to say that if more helicopters were there evacuation would have been faster is not right. Because, when weather was not right, helicopters were not able to fly. Airspace was limited, hence we could only deploy the possible helicopters. And the whole operations were being controlled by air force. Hence, the feeling that people get is wrong that if more helicopters were deployed, then people would have been saved faster. Helicopters were standing as they could not be used. Even today, helicopter is standing in Darchula, Pithoragadh, even my helicopter is standing, but I cannot go because weather is not right.
PC: Sushma Swaraj has demanded your resignation
VB: She is leader of opposition, a respected leader.
PC: Sushmaji has demanded dismissal of government, will you oblige her or not.
VB: For BJP to demand resignation is a fashion. Be it of our country’s or state leaders. But when calamities struck Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, then Congress had shown character and did not say such a thing. You can say there are shortcomings, and I agree that there may be short comings, those short comings can be discussed after three months, toady lets together serve Uttarakhand, and provide relief to people, and do rehabilitation. Her demand is on her free will, but to speak this on such occasion is against political decorum.
PC: You will not resign
VB: Demanding resignation is their right, this is the domain of my party, my legislators, of public, if resignation is demanded in such manner and is given in such manner, then any government would not be able to be stable anywhere.