With the evacuation of stranded pilgrims nearing its end,authorities in Uttarakhand are staring at their next big challenge collecting evidence that will help identify the bodies lying in the worst-affected Kedar valley.
A 55-member team of Uttarakhand police has landed in the valley to complete legal formalities,without which mass cremation of the bodies is not possible. Doctors in the team can conduct autopsies only after the police complete the panchnama process or legal formalities involved in preparing a inquest report.
This is a mission which has more legal value than one which helps families of missing persons, said a senior police officer. The team is carrying saws,sickles,shovels and chisels,besides hydraulic machines and plate-cutters to locate bodies buried under the debris.
The team is forced to use traditional equipment and hydraulic machines to find bodies as it does not have access to electricity lines or powerful generators to support modern equipment. It also faces the difficult task of dealing with mutilated bodies.
The team includes seven doctors,five police mountaineers,six municipal sweepers,at least two photographers,one forensic scientist and 12 sub-inspectors,among others.
Police sources said the team has taken saline water bottles to be able to preserve body parts. The team is supposed to keep body parts like hair,teeth and any bone,preferably the femur. This is necessary for DNA tests. It would be useful in case two persons claim compensation after identifying the clothes or personal belongings of the dead, the source said.
While the mountaineers are supposed to trek with the bodies,firemen will help the team in cutting rocks in case a body is stuck, another police source said.
One team was sent to the valley on June 20. The bodies which were visible near the Kedarnath temple were examined by this team. The panchnama reports are ready and these bodies are waiting for the government to start mass cremation in the valley, the police source said.
Officers will be assigned to the operation in turns as the job is difficult.
This is an unprecedented situation for the Uttarakhand Police. The team members survival is also important in view of the possible outbreak of diseases due to the presence of decomposing bodies, the source said,adding that the DGPs office has demanded at least two helicopters to help the policemen do their job in shifts.
The administration has already despatched wood,ghee and religious items needed to cremate the bodies. We have despatched more than two quintals of ghee. Wood is supplied by the forest department, the source said.