The 2013 Kedarnath Flash Floods was one of the worst Himalayan tragedy ever. As per the official report of the National Institute of Disaster Management, more than 200 people got killed and around 4000 got missing (which are now presumed to be dead) in the floods. Non-government estimates suggest even higher numbers.

For the last many years, several activists and organizations had raised the demand to the state government for finding and identifying the mortal remains of the missing people in the tragedy. The activists and organizations have been making these demands in context to ‘right to die with dignity’. Relatives of missing persons have been waiting to perform the last rites as per the Hindu rituals.

The issue resurfaced again when Uttarakhand High Court disposed off a Public Interest Litigation filed by Ajay Gautam, a Delhi resident on 8 August 2020. The petition talked about expediting the process for identifying and finding the mortal remains of the missing persons. “As per the government record 3322 dead bodies lie scattered in the Kedarnath town”, said the petition. “Only 998 persons gave DNA samples for matching it with missing or dead persons, out of which the government was able to identify only 33 samples and rest 875 are still pending”, further stated the petition.

Petition talked about setting up a committee to look into the process of identifying and finding the mortal remains of more than 3000 people in the state. In response, the state government had created a committee under the Chairmanship of Inspector General, State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF), Uttarakhand. Members from the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology and Archaeological Survey of India will also be part of the expert committee. The same was informed to court by the government.

The High Court accepted the response and ordered the state government to publish the findings of the expert committee, constituted to investigate the tragedy, within the next two months.

Earlier, in May 2017, the state government had constituted five SITs on the order of the High Court to locate the missing dead bodies. In 2019, the government submitted to the court that excavating of terrain for locating the dead bodies does not seem the be a viable option from the ecological point of view and may further create a disaster.

The government also submitted that it remains difficult to pinpoint the location of a dead body under the thick pile of debris and requested to adopt DNA sampling method along with ceremonial cremation.

In his petition, the petitioner also requested the court to order the government to suggest an appropriate technology that will be used for identifying the missing persons. It also sought directions to restrict the movement of people in the hill shrines and keep a proper biometrics record of the people visiting these places.

The petition further went on to sought directions on submitting a status report with respect to untreated sewage flowing in the rivers en route to Chardhams. To which court had ordered the government to submit undertakings on steps taken to check mass tourism in hills and keep Ganga clean.

It has been seven years since the horrific tragedy struck the hill state and the government is yet to find the missing persons.

(By: Rishabh Shrivastava, Gautam Kumar)

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