REJUVENATING DEVBHOOMI

 

An invitation from Navdanya to join in the long term rehabilitation and rejuvenation of disaster hit Uttarakhand. Become a Friend of the Himalaya .Thank you for your generous contribution and solidarity.

6th August 2013

The disaster that  hit Uttarakhand on 16th June continues. More roads have been washed away. More homes have been destroyed.
Navdanya started with Annadana for our Annadatasfor food relief for the local communities who had used up all their grain for Annadanato feed the stranded Yatris. We took new clothes,since the used clothes being sent in relief were unacceptable for the people of Uttarakhand.
We will now be carrying bedding for winter and school material. Meantime we are helping rebuild homes and put up ropeways where bridges have been cut off and villages left without communication. Children are walking 24 miles to get to school on the other side of the Mandakini river.Putting up a ropeway is the most urgent need, and the Navdanya team is work on this 24 hours.
Life in Uttarakhand is still at a standstill after one and a half month when the disaster first hit our beautiful Himalaya on 16th -17th June, the first day of the monsoon. The monsoon is at its peak, cloudburts continue, triggering landslides and taking lives.
A schoolboy died while crossing a river. All schools are closed in Uttarakhand. An SDM died while crossing the Mandakini. A new landslide occurred on 12th July in village Genthiwhich was affected by the blasting for the tunnel of the L&T plant in Mandakini valley. 22 homes have been destroyed.
We have distributed the relief material in 26 villages and did detailed survey in 8 villages. According to Mr. Surendra Dutt Chamola of village Kaushalpur (Kwall) near Basukedar, "we the people of Kedar valley have gone back to the 50s in terms of the development and infrastructure, and we see no ray of hope in near future. People who fought bravely and even survived in the drought and Gorkhyani look helpless. This is the land where during the drought, when there was a famine people survived on grasses and water, but did not eat the seeds. They kept seeds so that even if they die, their children will sow the seeds".
Beshni Devi Pradhan of village Andrwadi says with grief mixed with anger that "the land of God (Dev bhoomi) looks like the land of the beggar today. God left us because pot of the sins of the modern man had already filled, it was over already flowing, so it had to burst one day, so God decided to teach the lesson now. It was to happen one day, better it happened now. May be it was the lesson for the people to go back to 60s again when there was no building in Kedarnath. Lord Shiva likes to live in quiet, he is happy with his meditation, so when the pot was full he did the tandav and opened his 3rd eye and converted the place into the cremation ground".
Bhawani Dutt Chamola of Basukedar, ex Army personel, who is 85 years old praised the Indian army and showed his willingness to help in rehabilitation.
According to Mr. Raja Ram Semwal of Byung village "The kind of disaster it was, we were lucky that it happened during the day time, had this been the night, more than 1 lakh people would have died. This disaster was basically aggravated by the hydropower projects. This is what people told our team time and again.
June 16th and 17th of 2013 will be considered the darkest days in the history of Uttarakhand, when unprecedented rain and cloud burst led to the disaster which affected the whole Uttarakhand, and brought the life in the state at halt. The situation was even worse in 4 districts of the state namely:  Rudraprayag, Chamoli Garhwal, Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh all border districts of Uttarakhand where people are in great trouble as several places have become islands as all the links with other parts of the country are broken and more than that there is no electricity and even mobile phones are not working.
According to Mr. Raja Ram Semwal of Byung village "The kind of disaster it was, we were lucky that it happened during the day time, had this been the night, more than 1 lakh people would have died. This disaster was basically aggravated by the hydropower projects. This is what people told our team time and again.
June 16th and 17th of 2013 will be considered the darkest days in the history of Uttarakhand, when unprecedented rain and cloud burst led to the disaster which affected the whole Uttarakhand, and brought the life in the state at halt. The situation was even worse in 4 districts of the state namely:  Rudraprayag, Chamoli Garhwal, Uttarkashi and Pithoragarh all border districts of Uttarakhand where people are in great trouble as several places have become islands as all the links with other parts of the country are broken and more than that there is no electricity and even mobile phones are not working.
Several towns have become Ghosts town where there are debris all around and bad smell of the rotting human and animal bodies. Unprecedented rains in Uttarakhand resulted in massive landslides and floods, damaging and washing away homes, roads, bridges, schools ,killing the pilgrims as well as local people those who were trapped. Entire villages and settlements such as Gaurikund, about 14 km before Kedarnath and Ram Bada, a central point between Gaurikund and Kedarnath, have been wiped out almost completely, while the Sonprayag suffered heavy damage and loss of lives.
Chardham the pilgrimage centres in the region including Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath  are visited by thousands of devotees, especially after the month of May onwards. Over 90,000 people were stranded in various places because of damaged or blocked roads. People in the Valley of flowers, Roopkund and Hemkund Saheb the Sikh pilgrimage centre were also stranded for more than a week. National Highway 58, an important lifeline connecting the region was also washed away near Joshimath and in many other places. May - June is the peak season for both pilgrimage as well as for the tourists because of the holidays in the schools as well as pleasant climate in Uttarakhand. People generally avoid visiting the mountains in the monsoon season, so before monsoon season , the region is always packed with the pilgrims and tourists. The monsoon started early, and was intense, a result of climate change.The roads were seriously damaged at more than 450 places, resulting in huge traffic jams. The floods washed away many cars and other vehicles.
Thousands of people lost their life and more than 90000 people were stranded for more than a week in the mountains and struggled for life. Some of them could not cope with the situation and left the world. Not only the main roads along the rivers Mandakini in Kedar Valley and Alaknanda in BadriNath valley but most of the link roads were also damaged.  Most of the bridges connecting people were also washed away.
In Kedar valley alone in several villages most of the men are reported missing as they work in Kedar valley during the Yatra. About 5760 people are reported dead by the government of Uttarakhand. Only from the Okhimath tehsil 176 school going children became the victim of the disaster. Many people of the village Divli-Bhanigaon, Lwani, Bamsu, Lwara, Lamgondi, Andrwadi, Phali, Pasalt, Gaurigaon, Mundkatia especially men are reported missing. Official figures however differs significantly with the figures given by the local people.
According to Surat Singh Bisht of village Gadgu with many other people those who were eye witness of the disaster estimates death toll above 20000.
Starting from Kedarnath, Rambara, GauriKund, GauriGaon, Mundkatiya, Sonprayag, Sitapur,  Rampur, Badasu, Kalimath, Kund, Kakda, Ginwani, Bheeri, Syalsor, Chandrapuri, GavniGaon, Sori, Bedubagar, Ganganagar, Jawahar Nagar, PuranaDeval, Vijay Nagar, Agastyamuni, Silli, Rampur, Tilwara, BhatwariSain, Rudraprayag, Srinagar, Devprayag and till Rishikesh flood did immeasurable damage. More than dozen village of Kalimathvalley are also completely isolated after the bridges were washed away. More than 400 villages on Rudraprayag Kedarnath road are affected. As the road is damaged completely which will take many months to make it motorable, life of the people in these villages is under threat.
Bridges or Rope bridges of Sonprayag (between Gaurikund and Guptakashi), Rail near Phata, Vidyapeeth, Kakda Gad, Bheeri, Chandrapuri, Bedubagar, Agastyamuni, Silli, and Rudraprayag (By Pass) were washed away. Road at several places was washed away making the places in between islands. Motor bridge at Kund which joins Guptakashi to Okhimath and Rudraprayag is also badly damaged, which is not used currently for vehicles.
There is no electricity in the entire valley and water line is also damaged at several places. At several places under the debris and also in the forests there are lots of dead bodies Some of the dead bodies have been converted into the skeleton, their funeral is a big challenge for the government.
In Gaurigaon, Rampur, Biron, Bashti, Kaushalpur, Arkhund, Dadoli, Nala, Hyun, Narayankoti, and many other villages community fed the stranded pilgrims and have almost finished their food stock and other necessary items. These days because of the road networks and infrastructure people have left the habit of storing the items as they are readily available in the nearby market place, but now due to the damaged roads and recent developments, from Vijaynagari till Kund, Okhimath and several villages in Kalimath valley are completely isolated and have no connectivity with other parts of the state.
According to Rachna Devi "We are afraid of even the cloudy sky now, but when it rains the fear multiplies many a fold". People in villages of Sauri, Silli, Amotha, Chandrapuri, Bhatwari, lost their houses and lands and most of the settlements near the rivers were washed away. thousands of houses were washed away. Ancient Temple near Agastyamuni popularly known as PuranaDeval was also washed away, whereas Kedarnath and Kalimath temples survived. In Agastyamuni school was also washed away with the flood.
Almost everybody blamed the hydropower projects for making the situation worse. According to them the situation was worsened due to the muck dumped by the hydropower projects from the tunnels made for their projects. People in several villages are afraid of living in their villages as the cracks in their houses developed due to the tunnels below have widened after this disaster.
Mainly people blame the hydropower projects namely: Byung - Phata hydropower of the Lenko, BhatwariSingoli of the Larsen & Turbo and Srinagar Hydropower project in Srinagar of the GVK company. The muck and machineries of these projects washed away settlements at Bheeri, Syalsor, Chandrapur, GavniGaon, Ganganagar, Vijay Nagar and Silli. River at places is flowing about 300- 500 meters off its actual course.
Not only the villages in the river valley but the villages far from the river up on the mountains like Maniguha, Bhatwari, Dobha, Bhonsal, Rumsi, Chond, Malkhi, Khali, Khamoli, which are on the link roads above the Kedarnath road several houses were also damaged. The villages are also affected as several people go to Kedarnath for their livelihood.
Mules and horses of the people in Kedarnath, Rambara and Gaurikund also drowned with the houses and at places they are buried under the debris of the houses. Many farmers also lost their livestock. Beautiful place near Sauri where there was a temple and few saints were living there was also washed away with the flood water.
River bed at many places has come close to the road, and is flowing many meters above its natural course. The muck from the hydropower projects was dumped on the river bed, raising it by more than 20 to 30 feet, bringing it to the level of roads and settlements. The man made disaster created by the hyroprojects is continuing.
There is no sign of Kedarnath Highway at several places between Kund and Tilwara. After one month the road could be made bit motorable till Vijaynagar. At Silli road is made in the river now. People in the valley say that even in the rains for continuous seven days or in the earlier floods they never saw water level so high. It was only because of the hydropower projects their houses were washed away.
In the villages across Silli like Chaka, Falati, Taat etc. people have to walk more than 15 kms to come to the road head, which otherwise was a 2-10 minute walk. In the villages and above KundJal Chaumasi, Kalimath, Kabiltha the situation is even worse, they have to go all the way to Guptakashi and have to walk 20-45 kms. At places schools were also washed away, so children are sitting at home, they want to go to school but there is no school. At Falati head master closed the school till there is any connectivity to the village.
Thousands of hectares of the land in the villages on the both sided of the river starting from Sitapur till Rudraprayag also washed away. The village people in Chandrapur, Sauri and Ginwala are still hopeful of reviving their agricultural fields that are under the sand of 4-8 feet.
According to the local people road widening was also done to transport the heavy machineries of the hydropower projects. The unprecedented use of the dynamite for widening the roads as well as tunnels had destabilized the fragile mountains of the region. The villages above these tunnels are very vulnerable and needs to be relocated.
People from the remote villages have started coming to the road side in search of food, as there is no road and necessary things in the village shop have finished and shopkeepers in village have shown their inability to get the required things.
After taking the stock from the ground, Navdanya decides to adopt 2 villages immediately. These villages are Chandrapuri and Sori - Amotha. These villages were worst affected. In Chandrapuri village alone , before the disaster,70 houses were there and a school with a play ground for the kids. Now there are only 6 houses. They lost all the cattle and cattle sheds. There was a bridge that was connecting to the Kedarnath Highway, which is also gone now. Their land about 2500 nali washed away and whatever is left is currently buried under the sand.
This is not the end of the story. Many villages where there is no access, it will take time to get the correct information. Keeping in view the hilly terrain, and the fact that many villages have lost access ,it will take time to get the correct information. People in the area are totally dependent on  agriculture and the yatrato Kedarnath. This disaster has not only taken away their fileds and homes ,but in several homes there are no hands left to earn money for them. If there is no yatra this year there will be no food in their houses too.
We will also start work in villages Kharadi,Ranachati and Baria in Yamuna Valley where 65 homes have been washed away when donations allow us to help the communities.
For those who have already contributed, thank you.
Each and every one of you can become a Friend of  theHimalaya. Join us to rejuvenate our beautiful mountains and rivers, join us to bring smiles back to the faces of our strong, proud and sustainable mountain communities.
Friends of the Himalaya

Uttarakhand Disaster
Guiding Principles for Relief, Rehabilitation, Rejuvenation and Resilience
  1. The amplification of the Uttarakhand disaster was due to non-sustainable development policy, ill suited to the fragile and ecologically sensitive Himalaya and the economies and cultures of local communities. Relief and Rehabilitation should be based on sustainability and appropriate to the fragility of mountain ecosystems and needs of mountain communities.
  2. The mutation of pilgrimage to Char Dham into mass tourism increased the vulnerability to death and destruction. The spirit of pilgrimage should be rejuvenated. Ecological tourism should be driven by local communities, not by the construction and building lobby.
  3. The transformation of Dev Bhoomi into “Urja Pradesh” based on uncontrolled construction of hydro electric projects has had a major impact on increasing the scale of the disaster by rendering the mountain slopes vulnerable to land slides and raising the river beds through dumping of waste from construction of dams and tunnels on the river bed. The government is misleading the public by saying Tehri dam reduced the scale of the disaster. Firstly, the Mandakini and Alaknanda which witnessed the worst destruction, do not flow into the Tehri dam, and hence the dam could not mitigate the disaster. Secondly, if the flooding in the Bhagirathi was more severe, waters would be released by the Tehri Dam, causing dam induced flooding, and major disasters downstream.
  4. Local communities should assess the damage caused by projects in these areas. The companies should pay compensation for these damages under supervision of the Gram Sabhas.
  5. Local communities should decide which projects should be stopped because their continued construction will create future disasters. The disaster should not open the flood gates of river bed mining. Such mining will further destablise the mountains. The Eco task force must be invited for ecological rehabilitation. There is no role for corrupt contractors in this vital task, with far reaching consequences.
  6. Most roads widening which has triggered uncontrolled landslides is to facilitate the movement of heavy equipments and earth moving machinery for construction of dams and hydroelectric projects. It is not to serve local communities. Mobility needs to be defined by the needs of local communities, who have to live in the mountains, not for the construction lobby, which does not bear the ecological costs of the damage they have caused.
  7. The forests of the Himalaya are the protectors of the mountains. This awareness was the gift of the Chipko movement. The disaster should not be used to undo the ban on logging introduced in 1981 to ensure that forests protect the mountains from landslides and floods. The blanket announcement of forest clearances by the State Minister for Environment and Forests can have dangerous portends for future disasters. There should be no diversion of forest lands without consent of local Gram Sabhas.
  8. All rehabilitation needs to be planned by the affected communities to ensure fair, just, sustainable, corruption free rehabilitation. The people of Uttarakhand reject the model of using the disaster to create new opportunities for the greed and corruption that have sown the seeds of the disaster. We do not accept a contractor driven, corporate driven corrupt politician driven “rehabilitation” which steals our natural and financial resources.
  9. Within the next 2 months, we will prepare a detailed rehabilitation and rejuvenation plan on these principles while we continue to work on a people driven relief and rehabilitation in villages.We will work together to create a community driven, democratic and sustainable rebuilding of our mountain ecosystems and communities.
Friends of Himalaya, 19th July 2013

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