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Char Dham rail tunnel leaves Uttarakhand village dry

The villagers of Panai Pokhari have been bearing the brunt of the excavation activities for the tunnel since construction began in December 2020…reports Satyam Kumar

“Wherever tunnels are built in the hilly areas of Uttarakhand, water sources dry up. This is a plain fact, irrespective of whether these constructions are for hydroelectric projects or for rail connectivity,” says Hemant Dhyani, who has been a member of the Supreme Court-appointed high-powered committee to assess the environmental impact of the Char Dham highway project.

Nobody can attest to this claim better than the people of Panai Pokhari, a hilltop village located in Karnaprayag block of Chamoli district. The 50 families that reside here mostly depend on agriculture and daily-wage labour to make a living.

“Up until two months ago, we used to draw fresh water from a natural spring to meet our daily needs. Trees on the hills absorb water during the rainy season and release it slowly throughout the year. Our village had one such spring, but not anymore. The tunnel being dug at a depth of around 70 metre underneath our village for the Char Dham rail line has left us high and dry since April,” laments Vinod Gusain, the village head.

“We don’t know when the train will pass through here, or how important it will be for us, but we clearly know that our only source of water has been irreparably lost due to this project.”

The villagers of Panai Pokhari have been bearing the brunt of the excavation activities for the tunnel since construction began in December 2020. Many houses developed cracks due to the explosives used in the process.

“The panchayat immediately brought the matter to the notice of the district administration, tunnel contractor Dilip Buildcon Limited and the Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL). The villagers also petitioned the Karnaprayag Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM), who is in charge of all the work related to the rail route,” Gusain says.

However, the residents have not received any positive response so far. They say Dinesh Chamola, the RVNL Deputy General Manager appointed by the administration to deal with railway development-related complaints, has often asserted that the project has nothing to do with Panai Pokhari and its lands.

A pipe dream

Panai Pokhari has had a pipeline in place for the past 20 years, but the water that comes through it belongs to an open source — a small river formed by streams emerging in the hills.

“Sometimes, heavy downpour or landslides lead to pipeline breakage, which takes a long time to be rectified,” says Girdhar Singh, a resident.

The water gets dirty during the monsoon and is not the best quality even the rest of the year. Hence, the villagers use it primarily to wash clothes. But now, with the contamination of their sole source of drinking water, they have no option but to boil and drink it.

“That was not the case earlier. Irrespective of the season, we used to get sufficient quantities of clean water from the now-dry source. Be it a wedding or a religious event, the natural spring was worshipped first. It was of such significance to us,” Singh adds.

Janaki Devi, an elderly woman, adds: “I have had this water ever since I got married here. Even after the pipeline installation, we used to drink this only. There is no desire to use pipe water even now, but what can we do?”

Jailal Singh, another resident of the village, says, “The vegetables and crops such as red paddy and maize that we usually plant around our homes have never been affected by water shortage, as the presence of the stream ensured moisture content in the soil. However, in the new scenario, we are solely dependent on rainwater to save our crops. Unfortunately, it has rained less this time.”

As Giridhar Singh claims, “It would be absolutely wrong to state that there won’t be water shortage in the village.”

The rail scheme

In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the Char Dham Railway Project connecting the famous Himalayan shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Gangotri. Since then, the RVNL and Uttarakhand government have been working in unison to complete the project.

According to the RVNL’s official YouTube channel, the 327-km line is expected to cost around Rs 75,000 crore. At least 16 bridges and 17 tunnels are part of the Rishikesh-Karnaprayag line. The tunnel to be built in Devprayag will be the longest in the country, at about 15 km in length. The Karnaprayag-Joshimath extension line will touch the Badrinath Dham, with12 bridges and 11 tunnels proposed in this path. The Karnaprayag-Sonprayag line connecting the Kedarnath Dham will have 20 bridges and 19 tunnels.

Similarly, a proposed line from Doiwala in Dehradun to Uttarkashi will connect Gangotri and Yamunotri. The construction of tunnels and stations in the Rishikesh-Karnaprayag line has started, and the final survey for the remaining phases has been completed.

However, environmentalists in the region are least impressed by the developmental works. Dhyani, also the Convenor of the ‘Ganga Ahwan movement’, cites the case of a hydropower project work in Joshimath to prove his point.

“Water just gushed out of the hill when a tunnel was being dug for this project in 2009-10. That was the elixir the hill kept locked inside during the rains and slowly let out as a source of water during the dry months.”

With the tunnel work disturbing this delicate balance of the ecosystem, water sources present on the hill that housed Joshimath city were affected. The result is clearly visible today, with many houses on the verge of collapse in the region.

“Such activities in the name of development not only kill the water sources used by humans but also affect wild animals, which then stray into human habitats in search of water. Such projects also seriously hamper the capacity of the hills to absorb and retain water. As a result, the water level in rivers no longer remains steady throughout the year. All these factors reduce the moisture content in surface soil, which further increases the risk of forest fires,” Dhyani explains.

In this context, S.P. Sati, Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences, College of Forestry in Ranichauri, says, “Even if eco-friendly technology is used for tunnelling, the drainage system of the hills is affected, and water sources go dry.”

So is there any technique to restore these resources? Sati says it is near impossible.

“Yes, water does fill them up during the rains, but it does not stay for long.”

Knowing this fact well, Gusain has been demanding that alternative arrangements for clean drinking water be made for Panai Pokhari. However, no one from the administration has reached out to them so far. The demand for compensation for the houses that developed cracks has not been heard either.

“If our demands are not met, we will be forced to stage protests before the district administration,” he says.

Asked about the discontent brewing in Panai Pokhari, SDM Santosh Kumar Pandey says he has no information about any water resource drying up in the region, though such an issue has been reported in the neighbouring Siwai village.

“We resolved the issue by holding a meeting there. Similarly, appropriate steps will be taken if we are informed about Panai Pokhari,” he clarifies.

Incidentally, a meeting with the residents of Siwai was held only after they protested before the administration.

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Women living in Uttarakhand forests demand healthcare

For the same reason, ASHA workers, who play an important role in implementing the health-related schemes in rural areas, don’t visit these communities, Hamza alleges…reports Varsha Singh

After resisting institutionalised healthcare for centuries, some women from Uttarakhand’s nomadic Van Gujjar community seem to be opening up to it. They would also like to train as community health workers under the Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) programme, which aims to provide healthcare to marginalised communities such as the Van Gujjars, who stay in forests.

Van Gujjar Tribal Youth Organisation has picked up this slow but emerging sentiment during their field interactions. “Their main concerns are the safe delivery of the baby and their vaccination later on. Instances of people getting hurt during the felling of trees have also necessitated hospitalisation,” says Meer Hamza, president of this youth organisation.

Traditionally, the women from the community would double up as midwives and deliver babies at home. But the changing forest use has affected their lifestyle in recent years and given rise to health complications among menstruating girls and pregnant women that warrants the attention of the formal healthcare system, of which they have nothing to speak of.

Add to this, they don’t get to access the healthcare schemes. Hamza explains why, “Since a majority of the community lives in temporary settlements in the forest, they don’t have land documents, most don’t hold a ration card, and they are not part of the gram panchayat. Now since the government schemes are implemented via gram panchayat, they miss out on vaccination drives for their children and fail to obtain their birth certificates.”

For the same reason, ASHA workers, who play an important role in implementing the health-related schemes in rural areas, don’t visit these communities, Hamza alleges. The apathy doesn’t end here. “Since the Van Gujjar women aren’t regularly monitored by ASHA workers, government doctors often refuse to treat them and send them to private hospitals instead. Delays such as these have caused the death of infants and new mothers in a few cases,” he claims.

Contrary to Hamza’s claims, Sujata Singh, deputy director, Women Empowerment and Child Development, Uttarakhand, said that ASHA workers visit the Van Gujjars regularly for the checkup.

Hamza feels the only way the Van Gujjar community will lap up the formal healthcare is if some of their own women become ASHA workers. “They feel hesitant to talk to women from outside their community, also because of the language barrier,” he shares what these women have told him in the past. The existing midwives, who are well-versed the traditional medicine, should be the first ones to go up for the ASHA training, he suggests.

However, Tarun Joshi, president of Van Panchayat Sangharsh Morcha in Uttarakhand, says, “We have been trying to increase the participation of the Van Gujjar women in the Van Gujjar’s meetings but they don’t leave their homes at all.” This, in turn, reduces their chance to access the social schemes that have been floated by the state government to promote institutional deliveries and neonatal care and reduce infant mortality rates.

These women prefer home birth and mistrust the modern healthcare. “It’s how we have lived our lives, inside the forests, for ages,” says Mano Bibi, a village elder. The younger Fatima Biwi echoes the views: “We feel safe when our child is delivered in our home. Only when the complications arise do we go to the hospital.” The 30-year-old recalls the time when she took her five-year-old daughter, who is sick with a blocked artery, to hospitals in nearby Rishikesh and Dehradun but the visits didn’t help much.

However, Dr Anupa Lal, a Dehradun-based gynaecologist, sounds a word of caution against home deliveries. “Since delivery is a complicated process, improper techniques used in home deliveries can cause arterial blockages, affect the development of the brain and even lead to cerebral palsy.”

Since this forest-dwelling community is stuck to their old beliefs, Hamza feels they need to be sensitised about their healthcare rights and amenities through workshops and the government needs to do more. “We had written a letter to the state education department to open an anganwadi centre [which looks after the basic health and child care in villages] two years ago but nothing has moved,” Hamza shares. But Singh defends this, saying, “the state provides anganwadi centres in areas with more than 200-300 residents, but the Van Gujjar community lives in small numbers.” Joshi feels a lot of these healthcare problems can be resolved by reclassifying the Van Gujjars as a Scheduled Tribe from the current Other Backward Class status. “The Bhotia tribe in Uttarakhand gained a lot from the ST status,” he makes his case while signing off.

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BJP considering Ajay Bhatt for Uttarakhand CM post

A senior BJP functionary in Uttarakhand said that search for the next Chief Minister has started and several names are doing the rounds after Dhami’s loss, reports Asian Lite News

With incumbent Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami losing the Assembly elections from Khatima, the BJP leadership has started looking for a suitable CM candidate for the hill state after retaining power with a comfortable majority on Thursday.

Among the several names that are doing the rounds in Uttarakhand’s political circles, Union Minister of State for Defence, Ajay Bhatt, has emerged as a frontrunner for the coveted post.

Bhatt, a Lok Sabha member from Nainital-Udhamsingh Nagar, is a senior BJP leader who was a member of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly before the formation of Uttarakhand.

He was elected twice to the Uttarakhand Assembly — in 2002 and 2012 — and became a member of the Lok Sabha in 2019. In July last year, he was made the Minister of State for Defence.

A senior BJP functionary in Uttarakhand said that search for the next Chief Minister has started and several names are doing the rounds after Dhami’s loss.

“The next Chief Minister of Uttarakhand will be decided by the Central leadership of the party, and names of a few leaders have already started doing the rounds. Right now, Bhatt is leading the race,” he said.

Names of former Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank and Rajya Sabha member Anil Baluni are also doing the rounds in the party circles.

Baluni, however, has an edge over Nishank, who was dropped from Narendra Modi’s Cabinet last year.

“The party’s central leadership has to take a call on whether the Chief Minister will be from outside, or from among the MLAs. If the leadership decides to make a non-MLA the new Chief Minister, Bhatt and Baluni are the possible choices,” a party insider said.

Among the MLAs, the names of ministers in the previous Uttarakhand government — Satpal Singh Maharaj and Dhan Singh Rawat — are also doing the rounds.

“Satpal Maharaj’s past association with the Congress can weaken his case, while Rawat is always a probable candidate for the CM’s post whenever the party has selected one name,” a BJP source said.

The party leaders, however, do not rule out the possibility of a surprise.

“There is always the possibility that the central leadership may spring a surprise by making someone else the Chief Minister instead of the political heavyweights whose names are doing the rounds,” a party leader said.

Incumbent Chief Minister Dhami lost to Congress’ Bhuvan Chand Kapri in the Khatima Assembly constituency. While Kapdi garnered 44,479 votes, Dhami could manage 37,425 votes.

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Close fight projected in Uttarakhand

But the poll tracker has consistently shown the fight to be an extremely close one with both parties literally running neck and neck…reports Asian Lite News

The elections in Uttarakhand will be a close contest with both BJP and Congress literally running neck and neck, as per the ABP-CVOTER Battle for the States survey.

The 70-member Uttarakhand Assembly will go to the polls on February 14, while the votes will be counted on March 10.

As per the survey, the BJP is projected to win 34 seats, one more than Congress’ 33.

The sample size for the survey was 7,304 across 70 Assembly seats in Uttarakhand.

The most interesting aspect of the elections is who is the preferred chief ministerial candidate. Veteran leader and former CM Harish Rawat of the Congress with 37 per cent backing is miles ahead of incumbent Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, who gets the support of approximately 29 per cent of the voters.

The numbers for Rawat have grown continuously since late 2021 from 30 per cent as his starting point. It is rare for an incumbent Chief Minister to trail so far behind an opposition leader, but given the rapid change of three CMs within a year by the BJP in the state, this is hardly surprising.

In normal circumstances, this should have led to a comfortable victory projection for the Congress in Uttarakhand. But the poll tracker has consistently shown the fight to be an extremely close one with both parties literally running neck and neck.

There can be no doubt that the BJP has gone through a big-time erosion in voter support in the state. In the 2017 elections, the party had secured 46.5 per cent vote share, which is projected to fall by 8 per cent this time around. It had won 57 seats in the 2017 elections. It is projected to go down by 23 seats this time.

The erosion is acute in the Kumaon and Terai or the plains in the state. While they run neck and neck in Kumaon, Congress with 40.1 per cent vote share is far ahead of the BJP, which is projected to get 35.6 per cent. It is the Garhwal region that seems to be saving the BJP with 41.1 per cent vote share compared to 36.1 per cent for the Congress.

There seem to be many contenders for the top post in the BJP with Anil Baluni, Bhagat Singh Koshyari, Major General B.C. Khanduri and Satpal Maharaj getting meddling to decent support from the voters. The frequent changes in chief ministership seem to have confused the voters. But if you add up their numbers, the grand total of BJP candidates as the CM choice is ahead of Harish Rawat.

A few recent decisions by the BJP seem to have helped the saffron party. The first was picking up a grassroots worker like Dhami as the Chief Minister. The second was the revocation of the order and a Bill passed in the Assembly to take over control of 52 temples, including the important ones like Kedarnath and Badrinath. The last is the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose campaign there is picking up momentum.

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Indo-Nepal joint military exercise to begin in Uttarakhand

The joint military training would culminate with a gruelling 48 hours exercise to validate the performance of both the armies in counter-insurgency in mountainous terrain, it informed…reports Asian Lite News.

The 15th edition of Indo – Nepal Joint Military Training Exercise, ‘Surya Kiran’ will commence on Monday at Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand.

The exercise which is alternatively held in India and Nepal is part of an initiative to develop inter-operability and sharing expertise between the two nations.

During this exercise, an Infantry Battalion from Indian Army and an equivalent strength from Nepali Army would be sharing their experiences gained during the conduct of various counter-insurgency operations over a prolonged period in their respective countries, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement on Friday.

As part of the exercise, both the Armies would familiarize themselves with each other’s weapons, equipment, tactics, techniques and procedures of operating in a counter-insurgency environment in mountainous terrain, it stated.

Also, there would be a series of Expert Academic Discussions on various subjects such as Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief, High Altitude Warfare, Jungle Warfare, the statement added.

The joint military training would culminate with a gruelling 48 hours exercise to validate the performance of both the armies in counter-insurgency in mountainous terrain, it informed.

This joint military training will go a long way in improving bilateral relations and also will be a major step towards further strengthening the traditional friendship between the two nations, the statement said.

Last edition of Exercise Surya Kiran was conducted in Nepal in 2019, it recalled.

Earlier, in March this year as part of the military-to-military cooperation between the two countries, India has gifted one lakh doses of anti-COVID-19 vaccines to the Nepal Army.

Meanwhile, India has also been assisting the Nepal Army (NA) in its modernisation by supplying equipment and providing training.

Assistance during disasters, joint military exercises, adventure activities and bilateral visits are other aspects of India’s defence cooperation with Nepal.

A number of defence personnel from Nepal Army attend training courses in various Indian Army training institutions.

Since 1950, India and Nepal have been awarding each other’s Army Chief with the honorary rank of General in recognition of the mutual harmonious relationship between the two armies.

The Gurkha regiments of the Indian Army are raised partly by recruitment from hill districts of Nepal.

Currently, about 32,000 Gurkha soldiers from Nepal are serving in the Indian Army. (India News Network)

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To protect crops from wild animals, Uttarakhand villagers are ‘seed bombing’ forests

NGOs like the Reliance Foundation have also embraced the campaign. Kamlesh Gururani, Project Head of the Foundation says, “For the last three years, we have been throwing seeds in the forests of Uttarkashi which appear to have grown…reports Varsha Singh.

The farms in the hilly villages of Uttarakhand, have been under regular attacks from wild animals over the last few years. These constant attacks have left several people dead, cattle injured, crops and buildings damaged and farmlands barren.

Recently, the plantation technique of seed bombing has been mooted as a solution to this problem. Seed bombs, or balls of seed covered in soil, are being thrown in the forests to ensure food for wild animals is available in the forest itself, thus negating the need for them to attack the farms. The campaign, which started in 2017, has now spread to the entire state, including Dehradun, Tehri and Nainital.

Since 2017, when the seed bombing initiative began, the number of hectares of crops damaged has dropped (though it rose again last year). Similarly, the number of injuries to humans, cattle and buildings have been fluctuating. So while the data suggests the results of the campaign are inconclusive still, it has continued to receive support from the community, civil society and government.

NGOs like the Reliance Foundation have also embraced the campaign. Kamlesh Gururani, Project Head of the Foundation says, “For the last three years, we have been throwing seeds in the forests of Uttarkashi which appear to have grown. In the next few years, we will be able to come to a conclusion on whether this method is effective or not. This year we have decided to mark a specified place to scatter the seed bombs. Then we will also be able to monitor them. We will also assess whether there has been any marginal increase in the yield of the farmers as compared to earlier. But to restrict the wildlife to the forest, we have to make arrangements for water along with food. Chalkhals have also been made at some places for this,” he said.

The seeds of the campaign

The seed bomb campaign was started in the state by Dwarka Prasad Semwal, Secretary, Himalayan Paryavaran Jadi Booti Agro Sansthan (JADDI), Uttarkashi, a non-governmental organisation focused on environmental conservation. Explaining the idea behind the campaign, Semwal said, “We planted bare seeds in the forest in 2017 but most of the seeds were lost, eaten by birds and trampled by animals. We did not even achieve one per cent success. To protect the seed, we made a ball of soil, manure and water and put two seeds in it. We named them beej (seed) bombs. We started this campaign on a small scale in a few villages and then took it to the entire state.”

Today, the campaign is active in many villages of Uttarkashi, where women and youth together make seed bombs and scatter them in the forests. Seed bombs are prepared in the month of June-July just before the onset of rains as the seeds are most likely to germinate in wet soil. The clay balls are dried in the shade for three to four days until they are neither too hard nor too soft before being taken into the forest.

Tulsi Devi, the former village head of Nathuakhan village of the Ramgarh block in Nainital is optimistic about these seed bombs. “We made seed bombs with seeds of pumpkin, gourd, zucchini, cucumber, corn and pulses. Just before the rains, some seed bombs were thrown towards the forest. If we grow these vegetables and fruits near the forest, then our agriculture will survive. This is our third year of making seed bombs,” she said.

The seeds are chosen carefully, in accordance with altitude and soil, said Dwarika Prasad. His NGO consulted with several experts like the Vice-Chancellor of HNB Garhwal University, Dr Annapurna Nautiyal; NK Singh, Assistant Horticulture Officer at Uttarkashi; Dr Pankaj Nautiyal, Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Chinyalisaur, and few others to pick the seeds.

This year, seed donations are also being sought from the community. Semwal explained, “There is a feeling of conservation attached to seed donation. Many people have donated seeds; some give two, some give 10.”

Akash Nautiyal, a member of the Mangal Youth Foundation of Uttarkashi, said that they have been asking for seed donations from every house they go to. “Farmers keep traditional seeds in their homes even today, which they sometimes give to us,” he said.

In Nainital, Jagdish Chandra Jitu works closely with the local youth for the seed bombing campaign. He returned to his village, Nathuakhan, last year after the pandemic struck. “Looking at what Dwarika Prasad Semwal ji was doing, I also made seed bombs and threw them in the forest during the lockdown last year. After 10-15 days many seed bombs were seen sprouting. The places where we had thrown the seed bombs are now green. It is our endeavour to take this campaign forward every year. Then we will see good results from it.”

A zero-budget success story

Dr Arvind Darmora, director, Parvatiya Vikas Shodh Kendra (Centre for Mountain Development), HNB Garhwal University in Srinagar tehsil, Uttarakhand, believes that the success rate of seed bomb campaigns is very high, especially relative to the costs involved when compared to large-scale government plantations. “Despite spending lakhs of rupees, plantation programmes are only successful to the tune of 20-30 per cent. But the seed bomb campaign is up to 80 per cent successful,” he explained. Beej bombing, meanwhile, is a zero budget campaign where seeds, soil and fertilizers are all sourced through enthusiastic community participation.

Darmora recalled an example of the students of Kamad Intermediate College in Uttarkashi who left seed bombs in the forests of Buda Kedarnath from Anyar Khal in Uttarkashi. “A nursery of about three lakh plants has been prepared there. This campaign is strengthening people’s bond with the forest,” he said.

Savitri Saklani, a teacher of Rajkiya Kanya Vidyalaya (Government Girls School) in Cheenakholi village of Dunda block of Uttarkashi, said she and her students were also inspired by the seed bombing campaign. “The students collected soil, manure and seeds. We made over a thousand seed bombs. There is a forest near our school. The girls threw the seed bombs in the forest. Only girls here go to the forest to get grass for their homes. So, when they went, they also took the seed bombs with them and left them in the forest,” said Saklani.

Dr Rajnish Singh, the Chief Horticulture Officer of Uttarkashi, stated that despite the dangers that forest fires pose to these young plants, he has been suggesting seed bombing to villagers who come to him with complaints about wild animals destroying their crops. Sandeep Kumar, former Divisional Forest Officer of Uttarkashi has been promoting it as a solution to landslides. The seed bomb experiment was also tried in parts of the Rajaji Tiger Reserve, where forest guards walk in the forest carrying seed bombs, according to SS Rasaily, Additional Chief Conservator of Forests in Uttarakhand Forest Department.

In addition to enthusiastic support from the forest department, many important people like Governor Baby Rani Maurya and former Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat have been endorsing the campaign, especially during the Harela festival (a folk festival in Uttarakhand). So while the jury is still out on whether seed bombs are enough to meet the stated objective of reducing man-animal conflict in Uttarakhand, the community is determined to keep trying.

(The author is a Dehradun-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)

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Dhami sworn in as Uttarakhand’s 11th CM

As per constitutional provisions, the Uttarakhand cabinet can have maximum 12 ministers including the Chief Minister…reports Asian Lite News.

BJP leader Pushkar Singh Dhami was on Sunday sworn-in as the 11th Chief Minister of Uttarakhand.

Governor Baby Rani Maurya administered the oath to him and 11 others ministers at a function in Raj Bhavan in Dehradun.

The new ministers are Satpal Maharaj, Harak Singh Rawat, Bansidhar Bhagat, Yashpal Arya, Bishan Singh Chupal, Subodh Uniyal, Arvind Pandey, Ganesh Joshi, Dhan Singh Rawat, Rekha Arya, and Yatishwaranand. All were also part of the previous Tirath Singh Rawat government.

As per constitutional provisions, the Uttarakhand cabinet can have maximum 12 ministers including the Chief Minister.

The swearing-in of Dhami and his ministers has also put to rest all speculations of rebellion by senior leaders Satpal Maharaj, Harak Singh Rawat and others over the election of Dhami.

Also, hours before swearing-in ceremony, Harak Singh Rawat, Arya, and Chupal had told IANS that there is no in-fighting and swearing-in of Dhami cabinet will be held as per schedule in the evening.

Dhami was elected Chief Minister at the meeting of the BJP’s legislative party in Dehradun on Saturday. The meeting was held in the presence of Central observers, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and BJP national General Secretary D. Purandeswari. The party’s in-charge for Uttarakhand, Dushyant Gautam, was also present.

He replaces Tirath Singh Rawat, who late on Friday evening submitted his resignation to the Governor, as he was unlikely to be elected to the state Assembly by the stipulated period.

A two-time MLA from Khatima constituency in Udham Singh Nagar district, Dhami, 45, was active in student politics and held different positions in RSS student wing ABVP for almost a decade. He has also served as the President of the state BJP youth wing.

Dhami, however, has never held any ministerial position in the past.

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Uttarakhand avalanche: 8 dead, 384 rescued

A total of eight people have died after an avalanche hit Uttarakhand ‘s Chamoli Garhwal district near India-China border at 4 p.m. on Friday, the Indian Army said. The force said six people are critical and are undergoing medical treatment.

The road access is cut off at four to five locations due to multiple landslides and Border Road Task Force (BRTF) teams from Joshimath are currently on the job.

A total of 384 people have been safely rescued and are now at the Army camp. “Rescue operations to locate other labourers are continuing,” said Indian Army.

Uttarakhand
First visuals of rescue operations – Avalanche in Uttarakhand.

The force said that the rescue operations were launched by the Indian Army immediately after the avalanche hit about four km ahead of Sumna village, a location on Sumna-Rimkhim road in Uttarakhand. This is on Joshimath-Malari-Girthidobla-Sumna-Rimkhim axis.

A Border Road Organisation (BRO) detachment and two labour camps exist nearby for road construction work along this axis. An Army camp is located three kilometres from Sumna village.

“The area has experienced heavy rains and snow since last five days, which is still continuing,” the force said.

The road access is cut off at four to five locations due to multiple landslides. Border Road Task Force (BRTF) teams from Joshimath are working to clear slides enroute from Bhapkund to Sumna since Friday evening.

First visuals of rescue operations – Avalanche in Uttarakhand.

“It is expected to take another six to eight hours to clear this complete axis,” the Indian Army said.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said water level in the Rishi Ganga river has risen by two feet.

The Central government is monitoring the situation and has alerted all the stakeholders for rescue operations.

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Exclusive pics from Kumbh as top priests ‘test positive for Covid’

As a deadly second Covid-19 wave continues to sweep India, 31 lakh devotees took a dip I the holy Ganges on the second day of the religious festival in the holy town of Haridwar, Uttarakhand…reports Asian Lite News.

Millions of pilgrims congregated for the second shahi snan (royal bath) at the banks of the Ganges at Uttarakhand’s holy town of Haridwar. The once in 12-year event saw seers and many devotees testing positive for Covid-19. On Monday over 31 lakh devotees took a dip. 

Devotees flout Covid guidelines during Shahi Snan (photo/video: Pallav Paliwal)

“Till 6pm today, a total of 31 lakh devotees have taken ‘snan’ in and around the Kumbh Mela area,” Kumbh Mela Police Control Room said.

The first shahi snan was held on March 11 on the occasion of Mahashivratri, while the second was held on Monday followed by another on Wednesday to mark the beginning of Navaratri.

Devotees flout Covid guidelines during Shahi Snan (photo/video: Pallav Paliwal)

Kumbh Inspector General (IG) Sanjay Gunjyal had earlier told ANI news agency that it would be very difficult to ensure social distancing norms.

Devotees flout Covid guidelines during Shahi Snan (photo/video: Pallav Paliwal)

“We are continuously appealing to people to follow Covid-19-appropriate behaviour. But due to the huge crowd, it is practically impossible to issue challans today. It is very difficult to ensure social distancing at ghats,” Gunjyal said.

The government had earlier said that only people with Covid negative reports would be allowed at the festival and strict measures like social distancing would be followed.

But a number of people, including seers, have already tested positive.

This is likely to cause a surge with the infection likely to spread when devotees carry back the virus back to their cities and villages.

Uttarakhand has reported 1,333 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday taking the total number of the cases in the state to 1,08,812. The active cases in the state now stand at 7,323. (ANI)

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Celebs reaction on ‘ripped jeans’ remark

Bollywood celebrities have reacted sharply to Uttarakhand Chief Minister Tirath Singh Rawat’s controversial remark on women wearing ripped jeans.

Earlier this week, while attending a workshop for Protection of Child Rights in Dehradun, CM Rawat made a remark about women wearing ripped jeans.

He spoke about a female co-passenger once on board a flight with him who was wearing ripped jeans and runs an NGO. Describing her attire, the Chief Minister questioned what kind of “sanskar” (values) the woman is going to give wearing ripped jeans and showing her knees.

This controversial remark didn’t go down well on social media and the hashtag #RippedJeansTwitter started trending on Twitter.

Several Bollywood celebrities also reacted to the remark , voicing protest.

DPCC Women cell protest against new chief minister of Uttarakhand, Tirath Singh Rawat made a comment questioning the character of those who wear such jeans, at Rajiv Chowk in New Delhi, India, on Friday, March 19, 2021 (Pallav Paliwal)

Koena Mitra tweeted: “May Bjp rule for another 50 years but…. ripped jeans and boots will rock forever! Men don’t tell us what to wear! I wear shorts and snickers, I dance like a hip hopper, I chant Hanuman chalisa, I vote, I travel like a Gypsy and I cancel Men like him. Stop.”

Gul Panag tweeted a photo of herself wearing ripped jeans and captioned: “#RippedJeansTwitter”

Sona Mohapatra shared a photo of herself wearing a ripped long t shirt and wrote: “I don’t wear jeans owing to the humidity & heat here but happy for this ripped T shirt with my sanskari ghutnas showing!..& #GirlsWhoWearRippedJeans don’t need anyone’s permission in #India . We are the land of the glorious Konark, Khajurao, Modhera, Thirumayam, Virupaksha!”

Shruti Seth tweeted: “Currently ripping all my jeans.”

Amitabh Bachchan’s granddaughter Navya Naveli Nanda had on Wednesday evening reacted to the Uttarakhand Chief Minister’s comment. Taking to her Instagram story, Navya shared a photo of herself in ripped jeans, asking the CM to change his mentality.

“Change your mentality before changing our clothes. Because the only thing shocking here is the message comments like this send to society. Just…” Navya wrote.

DPCC Women cell protest against new chief minister of Uttarakhand, Tirath Singh Rawat made a comment questioning the character of those who wear such jeans, at Rajiv Chowk in New Delhi, India, on Friday, March 19, 2021 (Pallav Paliwal)

Sharing her photo in ripped jeans, Navya wrote, “I’ll wear my ripped jeans. Thank you. And I’ll wear them proudly.”

However, she later deleted the post.

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