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200 pilgrims return to Andhra in TDP-charted plane

200 pilgrims return to Andhra in TDP-charted planeHyderabad, June 25 - Nearly 200 Uttarakhand pilgrims belonging to Andhra Pradesh arrived here late Monday night by an aircraft chartered by the main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

The party leaders also arranged special buses at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport to transport all 196 pilgrims to their respective towns.

TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu's son Lokesh received the pilgrims at the airport and oversaw the arrangements for their journey to their destinations.

Amid mounting criticism of the Congress government in coming to the rescue of the pilgrims, it was Naidu who was personally present at Delhi airport to console and see off the pilgrims.

He spoke to the airport authorities to get clearance for the pilgrims not having any identity proof.

Naidu, who returned to India from the US Sunday, was angry over what he said were the shoddy arrangements made by the state authorities.

He staged a sit-in and criticized the government for not hiring aircraft -- a la Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Naidu visited Dehradun Monday and called on Uttarakhand Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna.

He complained of discrimination against non-Hindi speaking pilgrims and demanded immediate steps to rescue those from Andhra Pradesh.

Some TDP MPs and other leaders rushed to Dehradun to make arrangements for the pilgrims' travel. NTR Trust, run by TDP, deputed medical teams to both Dehradun and New Delhi.

Naidu said he chartered an aircraft and made other arrangements on humanitarian grounds. He denied the allegation by Congress that he was playing politics over a tragedy.

Some pilgrims who returned by the aircraft complained that the Andhra Pradesh government failed to make any arrangements.

"There were policemen and other officials from other states to take care of their people and they wanted to know why nobody has come from Andhra," said a woman pilgrim of Vijayawada.

According to officials, of the 2,772 pilgrims who went to Uttarakhand for pilgrimage, 1,500 have returned.

Officials have confirmed eight deaths while 35 pilgrims are reportedly missing. Over 1,000 pilgrims are still stranded in Uttarakhand. (IANS)