Monday, July 22, 2013

First Impressions of the Disaster

03 July 2013 : I knew even before I left Dehradun for Pithoragarh that this district is not the worst affected. However, I also knew that I had not been sent here on a paid tour. The UN and government must have had a specific reason to put me on this visit to Pithoragarh. At the airport which had just a small little concrete roof of about 10ft x 10 ft passage way that had been converted into the control room with the district Collector Mr. Neeraj Kherwal IAS sitting and the 2nd Commandant of ITBP (Mr. Martolia, because he is from a village called Martoli) in Pithoragarh guiding the ITBP jawans and camps across the hills, and both of them giving briefs to the IAF helicopter captains….and several satellite phones and wireless systems set up to ensure flow of communication, and couple of tents and over 20 civilian and para-military vehicles lying on the side…. It all gave you an impression of you have landed in the midst of an English action thriller.
The district collector explaining about the disaster using map.

The Collector (also known as the District Magistrate) was very welcoming, honest about the disaster, explained the current situation through a map of the hills drawn by the ITBP that had been placed on a small display board. We could question him about the government’s response. Then we went to meet the District Disaster Management Officer Mr. B.S. Rana at his office, and thereafter to the ITBP camp for further discussion on the logistics. Mr. Martolia  took us into a large hall that is used for educating the young soldiers. The hall had a three dimensional replica of the region mentioning where the Indian villages are, borders are, various security camps are and where various passes and passage routes are. This was extremely important for us to understand which route we must be taking, and which we must avoid. This discussion was educative as well, as we decided to make a strategic change: Our team will be divided into two: two men will go to Dharchula and three of us will go Musiyari, and these two towns will be used as our bases to visit other damaged villages. As a guide and security, Mr. Martolia also offered to provide us with a soldier each so that each team is safe and comfortable in the unknown region.  (The maps we saw are security sensitive and so we were asked to delete them from cameras.)

We were tired as it was already 8.15 pm, and I had to update several persons about the present plans, logistics etc, We checked in at Punetha Inn after a little bargain on the rates. The manager of the hotel was accommodating, and we went to bed by 11.00 pm after a vegetarian meal.

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