M A I N   N E W S

Don’t have heart to see more deaths...
...say Ladakh victims; Rahul promises healing touch
Aditi Tandon writes from Leh

n PM visits flood-ravaged Leh today
n VVIP visits hinder relief operations
n Army chief reviews situation
n Several relief vehicles stranded

August 16
“We don’t have the heart to see more deaths,” mumbled 40-year-old Stanzan Dolkar as she recalled the horror and the trauma, which the 200-feet wide gush of water brought in its fold on the fateful night of August 6.

The outpourings of grief were stark as Rahul Gandhi — who along with Minister of State for Defence M Pallamraju visited Choglamsar, the epicentre of the Leh flash floods, today — heard the tales of loss and tried to comfort the victims of the tragedy at a relief camp.

As the young AICC general secretary took stock of the situation, practically all campers asked for permanent houses, rejecting prefabricated structures in the name of shelters. “We have lost the last penny we saved. Please give us a pucca house and some money to rebuild our lives,” Dolkar spoke on everyone’s behalf.

The Congress MP, on his part, promised all help. “We will do whatever can be done to restore your lives. No one will die, don’t worry,” assured Rahul. He also asked the victims to “freely communicate their woes and requirements to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he visits tomorrow.” Tourism Minister J&K Nawang Rigzin Jora mediated between the people and him.

Earlier, the Congress MP asked the security personnel to remove the barricades put by them to facilitate VIP visits and said that barricading people struck by tragedy was an insult to their grief. “Who put these barricades? It is really insulting,” Rahul told his men and the SPG, which then instructed the local security agencies to avoid such hindrances when the PM comes tomorrow. The PM will visit Choglamsar, which accounts for 40 per cent of all the 790 houses declared officially damaged by floods till now. He will also hold an on-the-spot review meeting of relief operations with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and Leh district officials.

Meanwhile, the anxiously waiting 800-odd residents of 7014 EM battalion relief camp, the first to be set up in Leh post the August 6 floods, could not meet Rahul, who at the last-minute decided to go to the actual site of the tragedy in Choglamsar.

“We wanted to tell him all about how the stream changed course that night and ravaged our settlements, killing our sons and daughters, uprooting us forever,” said Sonam Stogden, nambardar of Choglamsar, the worst-affected of Ladakh’s 12 villages, while talking to The Tribune. Along with him stood the entire village leadership, including the committee president Mehrajdin, who braved the sharp sun. However, the other VIP - Army Chief Gen VK Singh - kept his date with the campers.

“There used to be one big three-kilometer stream here, but it has now diverted into two and is causing havoc. We want it restored into a single nullah so that our standing crops are not damaged in the event of another flood,” the village committee chief told General Singh, who issued instructions to engineers to make an assessment and do the needful.

“It can be done,” he told the people, who leave the tents every morning to secure whatever is left at the site of destruction in the village. “We return empty-handed every night. Some people are trying to remove the rubble but the more they remove it the more the leftovers collapse,” 30-year-old Stanzan Padma told The Tribune. The district administration expects a loss of 1,200 houses (790 right now) and is preparing an estimate of costs required to rebuild them before the onset of winter. The same would be submitted to the Prime Minister when he comes tomorrow.

Deputy Commissioner Leh T. Angchok today admitted, “We are banking heavily on the Prime Minister for reconstruction help. We have only two months left after which we won’t be able to do anything. Each new house would cost Rs 2.5 lakh. Right now 790 houses are estimated damaged, 309 in Choglamsar alone. But now even the remaining structures are falling due to moisture. The numbers could go up to 1,200,” he said.

As for the Army chief, he told the affected people: “We are with you. We have come to see what problems you have and will request the government to give you maximum possible compensation for lost houses.” General Singh, who visited the Army Hospital earlier (as did Rahul and MoS Defence) later, flew to Kashmir for a security situation review.

Do you know English?

At the camp, of the two tents, visited by Rahul, one belonged to 23-year-old Jigmey Yangchen, a Leh Degree College student who lost her house. She sought financial relief for studies and Rahul made her promises.

Outside the camp, the Congress MP put some tough questions to the shy Ladakhi children. “Were you afraid when the floods came?” he asked one. To another, he administered an English language test: “Do you study; can you speak English?” he asked a six-year-old Adon Chiskit, challenging her to read the writing on the mineral water bottle she was holding. “Mountain”, she replied, clearing the test.





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