Dehradun/New Delhi, June 26 (IANS) Hundreds of village menfolk who worked along the pilgrim route to Kedarnath as porters, labourers and vendors to earn some money in the pilgrimage season are missing in the rain and flood tragedy that has hit Uttarakhand, says an expert.
"The national media has reported the rain and flood tragedy at the four pilgrim spots, the Char Dham of Kedarnath. Badrinath. Gangotri and Yamunotri.. But beyond the pilgrimage spots the tragedy has a lot of ramifications for locals, the most important being loss of livelihood," Ravi Chopra, director, People's Science Institute, Dehradun and member (Expert), National Ganga River Basin Authority, told IANS on phone.
According to Chopra, hundreds of men from villages in Mandakini Valley surrounding Kedarnath temple town earn their livelihoods along the 14 km pilgrimage route, working as porters to carry children, women or elderly on their backs, selling knick-knacks like chips or bottled water and raincoats and also run the many dhabas, the eating joints that dot the winding mountain road.
"Many of the menfolk are missing.. Now with the yatra season over, and we don't know when it will resume, the villagers have been hit hard," said Chopra.
His colleague had reported that in one village in Guptkashi, 22 km away, 78 men who were working in Kedarnath were missing, said the expert.
Besides the pilgrimage season, villagers also depend on the tourism season for their livelihood. "It is their main source of livelihood," said Chopra. Thousands of buildings and homes, bridges and roads have been destroyed in the tragedy, badly hitting the tourism season.
The incessant rains that hit the state over three days from June 14, leading to flash floods and cloudbursts, have led to hundreds of deaths and hundreds others are missing. Over 70,000 stranded people, including pilgrims and tourists, have been rescued by the armed forces.
Another aspect of the human tragedy is that the floods have destroyed not just the farmland but also the irrigation system in the mountains, including the network of canals and irrigation channels, said Chopra whose organisation has been working in the Mandakini Valley for the past 15 years.
"The canals are gone, the irrigation system is gone.. this has compounded the loss for the villagers," said Chopra.
The state authorities have said the Kedarnath pilgrimage, which sees hundreds of thousands of pilgrims travelling each year, may not resume for the next couple of years. Most tourists have cancelled plans to travel to Uttarakhand following the tragedy.
According to Chopra, the state earns around Rs.25 billion a year through tourism.
(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)