Help the flood hit, Supreme Court says

New Delhi, June 20 (IANS) The Supreme Court Thursday directed the central and Uttarakhand governments to provide immediate relief to those affected by the devastating floods in the state and make arrangements for the airlifting of the stranded people.

While directing that relief must included food, drinking water, medicine and fuel, a bench of Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice Ranjan Gogoi said the relief material must be provided to the affected and stranded people without any discrimination.

Torrential rains and cloudburst over the weekend have caused widespread death and destruction in the hills of Uttarakhand, particularly around the highly revered Kedarnath shrine and a large number of people are stranded at Gangotri and Rudraprayag.

Officials have put the death toll at about 150 but unofficial sources say it could be much more.

The court direction to the central and Uttarakhand governments came in the wake of PIL seeking its direction for making available immediate necessities to nearly 3,000 people stranded at Gangotri.

Appearing for petitioner Ajay Bansal, senior counsel M.N. Krishnamani told the court that people stranded at Gangotri were not getting any relief and they were without food, drinking water, medicines, fuel and communication links.

Observing that the counsel for the respondent the central and the Uttarakhand governments were present in the court therefore there was no need for issuance of formal notice, Justice Patnaik, in his order, said: "We direct as interim measure that all the affected persons including those stranded be provided with immediate relief by the Uttarakhand government and district collectors of all the affected districts by giving them food, medicine, drinking water and all other essentials including fuel."

The court also said: "We also direct that depending on the availability of helicopters with the government of India and the state of Uttarakhand, sufficient number of helicopters be deployed for air dropping (the relief material) and airlifting of stranded people to safer places.

"We make it clear that no discrimination shall be shown by the respondents (the centre and the Uttarakhand government) while providing relief to affected persons," the court said when PIL petitioner Ajay Bansal told the court that some people were being airlifted after they had paid Rs.20 lakh and requisitioned exclusive helicopter service.

It said the central government and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) will provide all resources and wherewithal to the District Collectors of Uttarakhand.

"It will, however, be open to the authorities to provide immediate relief (to the people) where it is immediately required," the court said when counsel for Uttarakhand government Rachna Srivastava told the court that more than Gangotri, the people stranded at Rudraprayag were in grave situation as there was no communication and habitation there.

Expanding the scope of the PIL petition, the court said: "Though the relief sought for in the writ petition is confined to people stranded in Gangotri, but considering the fact that various other areas are as well badly affected, we expand the scope of the writ petition to all affected areas."

Directing the listing of the matter on Tuesday, the court asked the central and the Uttarakhand governments to file a report on the steps taken so far in pursuance to providing the relief to the affected and stranded people.

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