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Sunday Special » People

Posted at: Apr 15, 2018, 1:23 AM; last updated: Apr 15, 2018, 1:23 AM (IST)

Char Dham Challenge

Neena Sharma in Dehradun
There are a few firsts in this year’s yatra that begins on April 18. The massive highway work is one. This is a mammoth task that can interfere with the yatra progress. The others are massive arrangements and concerns over environment

Neena Sharma in Dehradun

The annual Char Dham pilgrimage begins on April 18: the portals of Yamunotri and Gangotri shrines will reopen. The Uttarakhand government is bracing itself to new challenges posed by construction work for the National Highway Connectivity Improvement Programme. The multi-pronged task involves uninterrupted construction and a smooth flow of pilgrims. There are several uncertainties when pilgrims would rush in when three exalted gateways open for the shrines at Badrinath, Kedarnath and Hemkund Sahib by this month and May-end.

Here’s an instance: the sides of hills are being cut for right of way in Rudraprayag and Chamoli districts. Then, existing paths are to be widened by 10 meters and 24 meters. This will lead to massive debris, muck and stones all across the route. Add to that the rain. “All the hill-side grating and scrubbing underway for the Char Dham highway project will halt after April 30 for facilitating the yatra. This will considerably make it easier for the pilgrims to walk on,” says Dilip Jawalkar, secretary, tourism department. 

The government wants to keep the remaining Char Dham work uninterrupted. “In case of route disruptions, district magistrates can take a call on stopping the work,” said Jawalkar. The tourism department has marked 34 landslide-prone areas. Heavy clearing machines along with 18 cranes would be permanently stationed at these places. 

The arrangements

The 7-km route from Rambara to Garudchatii and then onwards to Kedarnath was destroyed in the 2013 flash floods (see map). An alternative route was built in the opposite direction, passing through Choti Lincholi, Badi Lincholi, base camp and Rudra point. But the path was too narrow. So, the Bhimbalia-Kedarnath passage is being widened. “The work is nearing completion. It will ensure comfortable journey for the pilgrims astride the mules on this strtech,” says Mangesh Ghildiyal, district magistrate Rudraprayag.

Registration counters

The biometric card was introduced for tracking pilgrims through GPS after the 2013 disaster. Rishikesh is the gateway to the pilgrimage, so the physical (photometric) registration is undertaken at the several counters there. The government has also announced 30 additional counters at various places. At present 14 registration centres are functional. The toll-free number for inquiries is 18001804145. The cards prove useful for food and lodging at government facilities. 

“The process of physical registration began in 2014 at Rishkesh followed by online registration the next year. It is also a big draw. Over 1,400 people made their bookings by March-end using online mode. This year we plan to launch a mobile app for registration,” says Vivek Chauhan, deputy director, Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB). The trial launch is expected by April-end. 

But the department has not been able to ensure mandatory fitness certificates. “We are already carrying out dual registration of pilgrims who travel to Kedarnath. They are made to register again when they get back. But attempts to introduce certificates in the past have not elicited good response,” added Jawalkar.

Buses & choppers

The government has hired nine transport companies to run the buses under the joint rotation system. Over 1,500 buses will be reserved for the yatra. The yatris have to make reservation at the photometric registration counter at the terminal compound of Rishikesh Depot.

The helicopter services, run by private companies, are yet to be finalised. The tendering process starts on April 14. So those awaiting a chopper ride to Char Dham would have to wait for a few days. This time BSNL, the only internet service provider, will offer 3G facility to those visiting Kedarnath. Weather bulletins with complete update about the Char Dham weather conditions too would be provided by the state weather department on its website. 

Security, medical aid

The government plans to set up 80 permanent police stations, 171 police posts and 79 new temporary police posts. The new traffic plan would be in place from April 17. “Our policemen would act as tourist guides,” says Ashok Kumar, ADG, law & order. Over 200 temporary toilets with water facilities will be set up all across the route, in addition to the existing 100 permanent washrooms.

Last year, 112 people died during the yatra. The highest toll was 36 on the way to the Kedarnath shrine followed by Badrinath (28), Yamunotri (25) and Gangotri (23). Director general (health) Dr Archana Srivastav says most of these deaths occurred due to high altitude or mountain sickness that triggered other ailments such as cardiac arrest. Uttarakhand medical services, which are woefully short of specialists, do not have a single cardiologist. Officials claim that talks are on for hiring private Doctors. “We will set up 19 relief points for the yatra,” says Dr Tripti Bahuguna, nodal officer for the yatra. 


All-weather project 

  • In 2016, PM Modi laid the foundation stone for an all-weather Char dham highway project at Dehradun 
  • Included are 899-km stretches of NHs linking shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri
  • Cost: Rs 12,000 crore
  • Seven roads in the 889-km stretch will be improved. These include NH-58 Rishikesh-Rudraprayag (140km), Rudraprayag-Mana (160 km), NH-94 Rishikesh-Dharasu (144km), NH-108 Dharasu-Gangotri (124 km), NH-94 Dharasu-Yamunotri (95 km) and NH-109 Rudraprayag-Gaurikund (76km)
Progress so far 

  • The hill-side cutting is underway along 300km of highways. Around 80% land acquisition and forest land transfer is complete 
  • Work halted along 94-km stretch under the Bhagirithi sensitive zone. 
  • It awaits environmental clearance 
  • The Centre has formed a panel to look into objections raised by the National Green Tribunal
Registration centres

  • 30 counters will come up. A few centres where registration will be done for Char Dham and Hemkund Sahib yatra are: Railway station, (Haridwar); Rahi Hotel (Haridwar); bus station (Rishikesh); Gurdwara, Rishikesh (Hemkund Sahib); Dobata (Rishikesh); Heena (Uttarkashi); Sonprayag (Pandukeshwar)
  • Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam stay: Yamnotri Tourist Rest House; Gangotri Tourist Rest House; Yatri Niwas (Badrinath); Rest House (Badrinath); GMVN camps/tents in Kedarnath
  • The parasol/chhatra of Badrinath will be changed after 600 years and will be installed on May 9. 
  • The chhatra is being readied in Mumbai. Mukt family of Ludhiana has got the opportunity to serve the Chhatra of Badrinath Dham. Gyaneshwar Sood of the Mukt family is also the advisor of Badri Kedar Temple Committee. 

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