Gujarat is no stranger to natural calamities. The 2001, the Bhuj earthquake killed around 20,000 people, injured another 167,000 and destroyed nearly 400,000 homes. This bitter experience inspired the Gujarat Government to set up Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) which has implemented world class practices in disaster-preparedness and mitigation. This deep experience of Gujarat was put to use during the devastating Uttarakhand floods. Apart from availability of disaster management expertise, a significant number of Gujaratis undertake pilgrimage and rescuing them from the disaster was an equally important priority for Gujarat Government.
With this concern for sharing Gujarat’s expertise with stranded pilgrims from the entire country, Gujarat Government started relief assistance early and systematically. Heavy rains from June 14-17 inflicted significant damage in Uttarakhand. Gujarat State Emergency Operation Centre (SEOC) established direct contact with Uttarakhand Administration on June 18 to ascertain the extent of damage. On June 19, the Gujarat Cabinet passed a resolution expressing support (including a Rs 2 crore immediate cash relief, later augmented by another Rs 3 crore) and the very same day Narendra Modi spoke to his Uttarakhand counterpart Vijay Bahuguna offering any kind of support required to help in rescue operations. It’s important to note the speed of this offer which was also provided in the spirit of Indians helping fellow Indians in a very open ended manner and with no strings attached.
On the very next day (June 20), a large senior team including 3 IAS, 2 GAS, 1 IPS and 1 IFS officers landed in Uttarakhand. Realising the limitations of relying only on Government machinery, the State team approached many local organisations and NGOs for coordinating relief work. The relief control room was also set up in Shantikunj Gayatri Parivar, an NGO in Haridwar.
Further the team spread into multiple groups to provide, crucial multi-locational and multi-role support. Groups were stationed in main exit camps (Haridwar and Guptakashi) while another was stationed at the central control station in the state capital Dehradun. Finally a dedicated group was formed solely for external coordination with Uttarakhand State authorities, Central Government, relatives of victims, NGOs etc. Smaller teams were setup at Dehradun airport, Sahastradhara Air base and Rishikesh bus station. In this way, all the crucial locations were covered while ensuring a robust liaison in a cooperative spirit with other authorities. The focus remained on helping all victims in the best possible manner.
The relief work was also done in a very comprehensive manner. Boarding and lodging was provided to displaced people and transportation (including air lifts) were provided to the most grievously injured. In total the team managed to send 2,890 people back home. Additionally, medical camps including mobile medical vans were setup – all these facilities were provided to all injured and sick without discrimination. In total, Gujarat Medical Team screened 12,266 pilgrims and treated 1,396 victims. The team also acted as a central information registry for inquiries from relatives of missing persons as well as on people located in the camps. It was able to coordinate and track back many missing people by coordination and passing on information to Uttarakhand Government, while also assisting in procedures like filing of FIR for missing people.
A unique relief effort was focused on providing carefully designed relief kits en-masse. Relief experts designed complete family relief kits with 43 essential items from food, blankets, torch, clothes, utensils, stove etc. A total of 31,416 relief kits were supplied by Gujarat Government out of which 27,934 were complete family relief kits. Further, apart from supplying the kits, Gujarat Government further sent officials to verify the distribution and usage of the kits. This special effort again illustrates the end to end meticulous planning of the Gujarat relief effort.
All this effort was supervised and guided from the very top with the Chief Minister Narendra Modi himself reaching the relief camp on June 21. His on the ground presence further inspired and focused the relief effort and his approachability strengthened the trust of people. There were many cases of relief requests from multiple States being asked on twitter and being coordinated directly by the Chief Minister. In addition, the mobile numbers of the entire relief team was shared on media and publicly, resulting in extremely high approachability. Such measures, directly helped soothe the victims and their relatives in their time of need.
The can-do spirit of the rescue effort can be further illustrated by two cases. Due to floods, a helipad at Jangle-chatti was damaged. The industrious and rapidly moving rescue team prepared new helipad 200 metres away from the previous by cutting trees and removing electric poll resumed the evacuation. In another case, after 12 days of flood, the possibility of finding victims decreased significantly. The Gujarat team received information on one Rankubhai Dayabhai of Junagadh stuck in Guptakashi. With continuous follow up with the media and DM Rudraprayag, his transportation from Guptakashi to Hardwar was arranged. He was then sent to Ahmedabad by bus along with a Medical Team. In all this, the eagerness of the team to put out all stops to rescue and serve the last missing man is very evident.
In all, the entire relief team remained on ground till July 2 (13 days) post which a skeleton team was left to coordinate dispatch of relief material. Gujarat team continued to send relief material post that.
The effort of the Gujarat team is a clear example of going above and beyond the call of duty in the cause of helping fellow Indians with all the skills and resources available at one’s disposal. The team made sure that they coordinated at the right levels, remained approachable, designed suitable relief effort types and utilised partnerships with multiple organisations. Their effort to make sure a fast and systematic relief was provided to all and the never say die attitude is a shining example of Indians helping each other.