The Uttarakhand Floods were a natural disaster of unprecedented scale as heavy rainfall and cloudburst led to the destruction of numerous roads, buildings and bridges. Thousands of people died in this disaster and a large number of villages in the hilly State became inaccessible and thousands of pilgrims from across the country were stranded in valleys, waiting to be rescued.
We may never fully know the magnitude of the human tragedy in Uttarakhand with clarity still lacking on the exact number of Indian Citizens missing or presumed to be dead. In the face of such overwhelming death and destruction was the sorry spectacle by a section of the media and a political party to scavenge for political controversies. No amount of relief can reverse the human tragedy that occurred in Uttarakhand. But the story needs to be told of how a small team of dedicated officers from Gujarat managed to make a difference even as a political firestorm blew over their efforts.
As soon as the Gujarat administration came to know about this tragic occurrence and how a large number of tourists were trapped at various places in the affected region, they tried to establish contacts with the Uttarakhand Administration on July 17 and 18, 2013 through the State Emergency Operation Centre (SEOC).
A high-level Gujarat Relief co-ordination team under the leadership of Shri PK Parmar, IAS, Relief Commissioner and Principal Secretary was then formed and deputed to flood affected regions in Uttarakhand to provide Government support including lodging, boarding, transportation victims and to coordinate efforts to facilitate returning back of travellers to their home State.
The team comprised of:
Shri PK Parmar, IAS, Team Leader
Shri TS Bisht, IPS
Shri SC Pant, IFS
Shri Ashwani Kumar, IAS
Shri Sandeep Kumar, IAS
BJ Bhatt, GAS
Shri DL Rathod, GAS
The team contacted Dr Pranav Pandya who is the head of Shantikunj Gayatri Parivar located in Haridwar and to seek his permission to open Gujarat Control Room in their campus. Two local help line numbers were finalized and Gujarat Control Room arrangements were made there with basic amenities, lodging and boarding, Campus with computers and Internet facilities, medical support for the retuned pilgrims and space to park the buses.
The team formed by the Gujarat Government left for Dehradun on June 20 where four sub-groups were formed, each with a specific objective and area of focus.
The first group was located at the basecamp positioned at Haridwar. Their job was to organize and control relief operations including lodging, boarding, medical help and transportation needs of the pilgrims coming back to Haridwar and Rishikesh from char-dham. Control room numbers were established on which family members of stranded tourists and others could call to either inquire or provide information. The helpline number was broadcast to the public at large through the local and State media. The task of the team was: to maintain different types of information / inquiry registers for reporting and information; to facilitate the pilgrims who are coming back in terms of lodging boarding and sending them back to Gujarat by various means; coordinating with local authorities and State Government authorities for rescuing stranded pilgrims from Gujarat at various places of Uttarakhand; working as an information centre.
Two Teams of Deputy Mamlatdars were setup at Jolly Grant Airport and Sahastradhara Air base. One team of three senior officers and other volunteers stationed at Rishikesh Bus Station for facilitating the pilgrims rescued from various places in Uttarakhand. The same team also worked as an information centre at Rishikesh. A special facility to pick up the rescued pilgrims from various places i.e. Rishikesh, jolly grant etc., and bring them to the camp Haridwar office was started.
The second group was located at the Disaster Management and Mitigation Center (DMMC) building at Sachivalaya, Dehradun with Aswini Kumar as in-charge officer. Their job was to collect information pertaining to pilgrims/ travellers from different sources and communicate the same to Hardwar Control Room, Uttarakhand SEOC and general operations at Dehradun.
The third group led by TS Bisht was sent to visit Guptakashi to organise a help desk for Gujarati travellers rescued and coming from Kedarnath valley and assist them in returning back from the pilgrimage.
The Team Leader PK Parmar along with SC Pant were taking care of overall coordination, direction and monitoring of the three groups and also coordinating with Uttarakhand Officers, Government of India Officers, District officers of Uttarakhand, local ashrams, NGOs, relatives of pilgrims, local media and at Gujarat and maintaining a close liaison with the Gujarat State and District Administration.
To ensure that nothing hinders information transmission and communication, telephone numbers of not only the established control rooms but also the individual officers from the response teams were publicised. Due records of all information regarding the travellers stranded in the flood affected Chardham areas received either from individuals / family members or through papers or provided by the travellers coming back from the Chardham was maintained.
By the time Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Uttarakhand on the June 21, the support operations were already underway by Team Gujarat. A briefing by Team leader PK Parmar on the action already taken by Team Gujarat took place on that day itself. While Narendra Modi undertook an aerial survey of the impacted areas on the next day, Team Gujarat went about its business without losing any focus.
A medical team from Gujarat joined the relief operations at Haridwar with the necessary medicines. One team was deployed at the Haridwar Control Room for OPD services for Gujarati and other States pilgrims coming to the centre. Another team was converted into a mobile dispensary started visiting Relief Camps in Hardwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun. A total of 12,226 individuals were screened and 1396 people were treated by the medical team from Gujarat in eight days. These people were not just Gujarati pilgrims but from all regions of the country. Also, medicines and drugs worth Rs 30.39 lakh were sent from Gujarat and handed over to the Uttarakhand Government.
A total of 2,890 persons were sent back to their homes in Gujarat 157 by air, 636 by bus, 1,734 by train and 363 by own mode. 27 buses, including 20 from Delhi, booked and kept ready by Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Limited (TCGL) were already hired and were under the group based in Haridwar for transportation of pilgrims from Haridwar to Ahmedabad.
Team Gujarat directed District Collectors and selected Public Sector Undertakings in the State to prepare relief kits. Special family kits were made which consisted of 43 articles ranging from food items like spices, flour, rice, pulses, tea, biscuits, clothes, utensils, raincoats, blankets, tent, stove and other items of daily use. 1000 family Relief Kits were sent from Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation and 100 Ration Kits from Ahmedabad were delivered to the Uttarakhand Government on the July 2. Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha and other organisations and Collectors of some Districts put their efforts together and prepared 15,000 Relief Kits with good packing. A Special Train loaded with 15,034 Relief Kits was sent on 9th July 2013. Many other State organisations like i.e. GSPC, GMDC, GSFC, GNFC, GACL, Gujarat Gas, GUVNL, UGVCL, DGVCL, SSNNL, PGVCL, MGVCL also sent Relief Kits to Uttarakhand.
Collectors of Vadodara and Surat had dispatched 6,000 kits separately through railway wagons on July 9 and 10, 2013. A total of 31,416 Relief Kits were sent from Gujarat to the Government of Uttarakhand; of which 27,934 were Complete Family Kits and 3,482 were only ration kits.
Disaster management as a professional discipline continues to be at a nascent stage in India. The NDMA itself owes much to tragic lessons learned earlier by States like Gujarat that had to figure out best practices of Disaster Management themselves well before the NDMA came into existence. It was this institutional memory of best practices in Disaster Management developed over the decade that came handy as Team Gujarat pitched in to do its bit in Uttarakhand unmindful of political controversies and undistracted by the media mischief.