The true test of any leadership is when a crisis strikes. In this context, the recent disaster in Uttarakhand has revealed the true nature of the state government led by Vijay Bahuguna. While the government says it has no experience in dealing with such calamities, the truth is that its response lacked adequate seriousness and will power. The political and administrative leadership of the state had no idea about the resources available with them and how to use them properly during a crisis.
The government may argue that it was an unexpected disaster, but neither was this calamity unexpected nor was it the first time that the state has dealt with such a crisis. There is a history of cloudbursts and landslides in the area. The Met department had already issued a warning. Even nature had given several signals before the calamity reached ghastly proportions. But the government failed to detect the problem in time and didnāt show sufficient wisdom in dealing with the crisis. And the result is there for all to see.
Although the Kedarnath disaster happened on 16-17 June, thousands of pilgrims were already stranded since 13 June, following heavy rains in the mountains. Having reached the state 15 days ahead of schedule, the monsoon had created palpable tension in the air. On 15 June, the Met department had forecast heavy rains in the next 48-72 hours. By the evening of 15 June, the rivers were in spate and there were reports of damage and loss of life in Phata, Rampur and Sitapur in Rudraprayag district.
In spite of all the warnings, Bahuguna left for Delhi on 16 June. The same afternoon, the Bhagirathi river had started destroying houses built on its banks. In the night, the floods washed away a portion of Kedarnath, and also destroyed a large section of Rambada and Gaurikund, located 7 km and 14 km away, respectively.
Sources say this first deluge of water and rubble claimed several lives from Kedarnath to Sitapur, located 20 km below in the valley. Several bridges and houses were washed away. The state government and the district administration knew about all these incidents. News of the destruction caused by the Bhagirathi and Mandakini rivers had increased the worries of tourists and their families. The Alaknanda, Mandakini, Bhagirathi and Asiganga rivers were flowing several metres above the danger level. The Ganga, made up of all these rivers, was also flowing above the danger mark in Haridwar. By 16 June, there was an official confirmation that 123 roads had been damaged.
All this while, Bahuguna was taking stock of the situation while sitting in Delhi. On 17 June, he reached Dehradun, but by 8 am, the floods had completely destroyed Kedarnath and its low-lying areas. Even then, the chief minister did not discuss the widespread damage caused with his ministers during the state Cabinet meeting the same day. This shows that either Bahuguna wanted to tackle the problem himself or he considers the opinions of his colleagues unimportant.
Every state has to send information to the disaster management division of the Union home ministry daily about any calamity and the damage caused. Records show that the Uttarakhand government had not given any information about the loss of life and destruction caused on 16- 17 June. By 17 June, Kedarnath had already been destroyed, so what was the state government waiting for?
By 18 June, the weather cleared up. A minister and several officials of the state government reached Dehradun after an aerial survey of Kedarnath. They even shared photographs of the destruction at Kedarnath. After seeing the magnitude of the calamity, officials from all over India reached Dehradun and started contacting people from their respective states.