MUMBAI: The infrastructure in Uttarakhand that was devastated by the flash flood catastrophe of 2013 has been rebuilt and the state has also developed additional facilities to welcome pilgrims for a safe 'Chardham yatra' this year, Chief Minister Harish Rawat said today.
"After the devastation of 2013, we took into account nature's warning and have put in place various measures to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey for all pilgrims visiting the state. We are well prepared to tackle any untoward incidents," Rawat told reporters here.
The dates for the pilgrimage of Yamnotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Hemkund Sahib will be soon declared while the Badrinath Yatra will begin from April 26 of this year, he said.
Rawat assured that the state is building a three-tier protection system that can prevent floods with three times the velocity of the 2013 disaster. Also, four helipads have been already built at pilgrimage sites for a enjoyable journey.
Besides, Rawat said, biometric registration counters are already in place at entry points to the state and on yatra routes. Also put up are five base camps, 48 wayside amenities, seven ghats and 12 night shelters for the Chardham yatra in 2015.
"A special task force comprising police and members from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering at Uttarkashi, has been set up for the Kedarnath route from Bhimbali which will function under the district magistrate of Rudraprayag.
"Additionally, services of private helicopter operators have been engaged to take pilgrims to Kedarnath," he added.
The state government is also giving a tax holiday for one year to hoteliers en route to the Chardham, which will enable them to provide low-cost accommodation and food to pilgrims, he said.
The Centre had also constituted a Cabinet Committee on Uttarakhand in 2013 following the catastrophe to push reconstruction and rehabilitation work in the hill state.
"Under this (Cabinet Committee), Rs 7,000 crore budget was created for a period of five years to be funded partly by the central government, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. In the first phase, Rs 1,600 crore has been allocated, of which we have already spent around Rs 800 crore," he said.
Last year, 50 lakh travellers, including 5 lakh pilgrims who went on the Chardham yatra, had visited Uttarakhand, said state tourism secretary, Umakant Panwar.
The state usually receives 1.5-1.2 crore tourists -- mainly those coming on pilgrimage or for adventure trips.
"We get three kinds of tourists, religious travellers, young adventurers and the high-end ones, including foreign visitors, who look for new, off-beat destinations," he said.
Uttarakhand has lined up a budget of Rs 300 crore for the financial year 2015-2016 that will comprise state as well as central grants for developing new destinations and facilities in the state, he said.
The state is also developing a two-way ropeway for the Chardham pilgrimage that will be operational next year as also a modern town overlooking the gigantic lake and the Tehri Dam along with a 'Himalayan Darshan' to watch the best of the mountain range and a Ski Championship at Auli, Panwar said.
Uttarakhand is also looking to cash in on film tourism and the topic will come up before the Cabinet tomorrow, he said.