At least 31 skeletons have been recovered from near the Kedarnath temple that fell victim to flash floods and heavy rains in 2013, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat confirmed today.
The shocking discovery was made at Triyuginarayan, a spot on the Kedarnath trek which was hit by the natural calamity in June 2013.
The DNA of the skeletons has been preserved for forensic tests and identification at a later stage, Rawat added.
The revelation comes after scrappy and unsubstantiated reports of recuperation of a few human skeletons in the Kedarnath locale.
Authorities fear the skeletons were perhaps of aficionados who fled the raging river waters after the cloud burst over Kedarnath and trekked to higher heights but lost their lives because of absence of food and water.
Chief Minister Rawat has directed officials to do a threadbare combing of the region for the next days to look for more skeletons.
Officials pointed out that the discovery of the 31 skeletons in the Triyuginarayan area indicated that there could be more skeletons buried in the area.
Harish Rawat sought to exculpate himself of responsibility regarding human remains being found in the Kedar Valley three years after the 2013 catastrophe, putting the blame decisively on his predecessor Vijay Bahuguna on whose orders search operations had been wound up.
"Those shouting from rooftops about the state government's failure to carry out a proper search operation should pose this question to the then CM who stopped the combing and not me who resumed it," Rawat told reporters without taking names.
The first round of combing operations was launched and concluded during the tenure of Rawat's predecessor Bahuguna, who is now in the BJP.
Rawat said it was strange that combing operations meant to look for bodies in the wake of the massive tragedy were winded up without giving much thought to the possibility of skeletal remains still lying underneath lakhs of tonnes of debris brought about by the flash floods.
The Chief Minister also took credit for the latest recovery of human skeletal remains from a forest adjoining a trek route between Triyuginarayan and Kedarnath, saying they were first sighted by a team of trekkers who had undertaken the expedition as part of a programme called 'Hito Pahad' conceived by the state government.
Heavy rains struck the Kedarnath-Badrinath and Gangotri routes in 2013, even as the annual 'Chaar Dhaam' pilgrimage was underway.
Several thousands had died in the calamity and hundreds had gone missing.
A brief search operation was conducted then but was aborted. Some families conducted their own search and combing expeditions but with very little success.