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Kedarnath tragedy: Expert panel to find remains of 3,075 people missing since 2013 floods

Uttarakhand government has constituted a high level multi-institutional expert committee to suggest appropriate technology or methodology for searching the mortal remains of 3,075 people who went missing in the massive flash floods in Kedarnath region in June 2013. The committee would hand over its report to the state government for compliance and further necessary action in two months.

The committee constituted under the chairmanship of inspector general (SDRF) Uttarakhand police will have expert members from Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun, Geological Survey of India (GSI) and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). HT has a copy of the order.

These three institutions have been mandated to “nominate suitable officers, scientists, faculty members in the committee who are well qualified, trained and experienced in shallow subsurface investigation to identify objects/human remains as also in retrieving these and having experience of working in the high altitude Himalayan terrain”

According to the order issued by secretary disaster management department, the committee would “meet as and when required and deliberate upon various aspects of the problem and would if required, visit the Kedarnath area”.

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The committee, according to the order, has been mandated to invite any expert that it deems fit for discussion, consultation and advice.

The state government apprised the high court about the order in its affidavit to the court on Friday during the hearing of a PIL filed by Delhi-based activist Ajay Gautam in 2014.

The PIL had sought directions from the HC to authorities concerned to take proper and expedient steps to search missing persons in the June 2013 Kedarnath tragedy so that their last rites could be performed according to the Hindu tradition.

Ajay Gautam said he had suggested the HC that a committee of experts should be constituted to look into the issue and come up with some mechanism through which the missing bodies could be recovered and their last rites could be held as per the Hindu tradition.

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“I am happy that a high-level committee has been formed. After this decision, the PIL has been disposed of by the HC. I have been fighting for this cause since 2014. I hope in the coming time this will provide closure to families of these thousands of missing people,” said Gautam.

On June 22, 2020, HC had directed Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology to suggest scientific ways that can be adopted to trace 3,075 bodies of missing people in Kedarnath region without harming the Himalayan environment

Since the tragedy in 2013, 699 dead bodies/skeletons/remains have been recovered so far from Kedarnath area.

In November 2016, the HC had directed the state government to form special investigation teams (SITs) to trace and cremate the bodies of the 2013 disaster victims. Following the directions, the state government in May 2017 had constituted five SITs for searching the bodies of the victims.

On September 4, 2019, Uttarakhand government had filed an affidavit, stating that excavating the fragile Himalayan terrain to trace the bodies of 3,075 people still missing in the 2013 Kedarnath tragedy could cause “irreparable damage to the ecology and the environment”.

The state government in its affidavit stated that “it is not possible technically to pinpoint the location of human remains under the debris and excavating the recently accumulated thick pile of debris in search of human remains would amount to inviting yet another disaster in this ecologically highly fragile zone. It is, therefore, most humbly prayed that unearthing of human remains be left to forces of nature and the state government commits to DNA sampling and ceremonial cremation of these”.

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