Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday to declare the destruction caused by heavy rains in Himachal Pradesh a "national disaster", just like the Kedarnath tragedy of 2013.
In a letter to Modi, Gandhi also sought financial assistance for providing relief to the victims and their families as well as for rebuilding the state.
Flash floods and landslides triggered by the rains wreaked havoc in Kullu and Mandi districts of Himachal Pradesh on July 14 and 15.
Gandhi, who visited the affected areas earlier this week, said apart from being the land of gods, Himachal Pradesh is also a state of true, simple and hardworking people.
"The women, farmers, employees, businesspersons and youth of Himachal are very hardworking and self-respecting. Today, the same people are facing an unprecedented crisis. Floods and landslides have caused massive destruction in the state," the Congress general secretary said in her letter to the prime minister.
"Recently, I met disaster victims in Shimla, Kullu, Manali and Mandi. It was very sad to see the devastation everywhere. So far, 428 people have lost their lives in this disaster. There are many people who lost all their family members in this disaster. The dead also include small children, who along with their mothers had gone to a Shiva temple early in the morning on the last Monday of 'Sawan'," she said.
Gandhi said more than 16,000 animals and birds have died in the state, including 10,000 poultry birds and more than 6,000 cows, buffaloes and other domestic animals.
More than 13,000 houses and buildings have been completely or partially damaged, she added.
"Large parts of the Shimla to Parwanoo National Highway and the Kullu-Manali-Leh highway have been completely damaged. Many roads in the state have been completely or partially damaged. The state has suffered a loss worth thousands of crores," Gandhi said in her letter in Hindi.
The Congress government in the hill state is making every possible effort at its level to deal with the devastation, she noted.
"I saw the people of Himachal Pradesh standing shoulder to shoulder with the state government in facing the crisis. At some places, some people are engaged in 'shramdaan' for the repair of roads, while at other places, disaster-affected people, school children and farmers are helping in the relief programmes by collecting donations," Gandhi said.
"I was very impressed by this feeling of solidarity. It is with this feeling that I am writing this letter to you," she added.
During this tragedy, when the people of Himachal Pradesh are looking for help, the reduction in import duty on foreign apples by the Centre will be a double economic blow to the apple farmers and orchardists of the state, she said.
"In my understanding, farmers should not be dealt such a blow in this difficult time, rather if the farmers of Himachal get some kind of financial help from the central government, they will get relief," Gandhi said.
"I appeal to you that this disaster should be declared a national disaster like the Kedarnath tragedy of 2013 and financial assistance should be provided to the victims and the state so that the brothers and sisters of Himachal get relief and the state can be properly rebuilt," she said in her letter to Modi.
"Today, the whole country is coming forward and standing with Himachal. I have full hope that you will take appropriate steps to help while being sensitive towards the people of Himachal," she added.
Since the onset of monsoon on June 24 till September 12, Himachal Pradesh has suffered losses to the tune of Rs 8,679 crore.
As many as 165 landslides and 72 flash floods were reported during monsoon. Of the 111 deaths in landslides, 94 were reported from Kullu, Mandi, Shimla and Solan districts, while 18 of the 19 deaths due to flash floods were also witnessed in these districts.
Chief Minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu has pegged the losses at Rs 12,000 crore and urged Modi to declare the calamity a national disaster.
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