Uttarakhand Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' speaks to Shishir Prashant on the situation after the recent cloudburst and floods in the state.
You have personally visited several disaster-affected areas. How do you assess the situation?
This is the worst disaster that this part of the country has witnessed in 100 years. I have toured most of the remote areas like Munsiyari in the Pithoragarh district and Purola in the Uttarkashi district. I even trekked to reach some of the villages where the devastation was huge. The devastation caused by the heavy rains is not only immense but unprecedented also. It will take at least two to three years to rebuild the damaged infrastructure.
What are your expectations from the Centre?
We are seeking a package of Rs 21,000-22,000 crore to bring the state back on track. A Central team is visiting the affected areas to make a final assessment. We have already got Rs 500 crore as an interim relief from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has agreed to extend all possible help and support.
What steps did your government take to meet the expectations of the affected people?
From our side, we are trying hard to heal the wounds. We put our men and machinery on high alert soon after the catastrophe hit the state, especially during those harrowing days of September 18 and 19. We tried our best to minimise the damage by taking up relief and rescue measures on a war footing. You will be surprised to know that we were able to save the precious lives of over 32,000 people. Besides, we have already increased our relief amount.
There has been criticism that the package you are seeking is on the higher side. There is a lot of politics about it, especially when comparisons are being made with Uttar Pradesh which has demanded a relief package of only Rs 1,000 crore...
We have assessed our damage, which has come to around Rs 22,000 crore. How the Uttar Pradesh government assesses the situation is not our concern. Moreover, the central teams will also tour Uttarakhand and assess the extent of damage caused by the heavy rains.
There have been complaints that the relief is not reaching some parts in time, especially Haridwar where people took to the streets on the issue recently
We are trying our best to reach all the affected people. I don't think there is any delay. We also took the lead in enhancing the relief amounts. In the case of death, the relief has been increased from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh. For complete damage to a 'pakka' house, the relief has now been enhanced from Rs 35,000 to Rs 50,000. The relief in other types of houses has also been doubled. The relief amount for damage to agriculture land due to landslides has also been increased to Rs 10,000 a hectare, from Rs 6,000 earlier.
What is the extent of damage to industry due to floods?
Our main focus is extending relief to people affected by heavy rains. As of now, industry is not on the agenda.
But, there are reports that industry has suffered losses due to floods ravaging several parts of the state and blocking national highways in Uttar Pradesh...
Even if there are losses, we have not received such complaints. I am telling you: The main focus is on relief work. Industry will come later.
You say the main focus will be on relief and reconstruction work in the next two to three years. In such a scenario, there is some apprehension that development work is likely to suffer. What is your point of view?
No, we will not allow the development works to suffer. You can see the progress that is being made under the Bharatiya Janata Party government.
But some infrastructure projects, especially in Dehra Dun, are languishing for two to three years now. Construction of new flyovers, renovation of the old bus stand... the progress is very slow...
We will not allow the momentum to slow down. These projects will be completed in time. Just like other cities, Dehra Dun is also on the path of development. There is no discrimination against Dehra Dun.