Residents of Narayanbagar find their valley transformed into a muddy mound. They are homeless, out of work, and impoverished

“We don’t fear rain anymore, as we won’t be alive to see the next rains,” said Manwati Devi, a resident of this once-picturesque settlement in the Pindar Valley in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli region.

On June 17, during the first round of rain, the Pindari river roared through it, and landslips followed. The river then shifted course, and wherever it hit the mountain it made it weak enough, resulting in multiple landslips.

The Pindari took with it much of what was the village for two centuries. Some 45 buildings, including shops and houses, were razed. Almost 150 people were left homeless and out of work.

The government did send a relief package for the villagers — worth all of Rs. 2,700. “That amount was a joke,” said Bijendra Rawat, who lost four houses in the catastrophe.

Rekha Devi, another resident, said: “Commodity prices have gone sky-high, and we’ve no money. We’ll not be able to survive.”

A week into the tragedy, landslips continue in the valley. Innumerable cracks have developed in the mountains, making the area fragile and vulnerable to further rain.

“The river took away our means of livelihood,” Manwati said as she pointed to the edge of farmland engulfed by landslips. Cracks have appeared on the remaining land and the next round of heavy rains could sweep away all the fields.

News of the catastrophe took almost four days to spread outside the area. Only after that did electricity supply resume in some areas.

Residents of even those houses that stand have vacated them and shifted to schools and other buildings located at a higher altitude.

Shops and farming activity, both of which have been affected, are the only means of survival for the villagers.

All the houses at relatively safer spots have been occupied by the homeless. Others whose houses are on the edge of the mountain and face the river, have nowhere to go.

Raghuvir Singh, who lives with 11 family members, said: “I live in this house but have shifted my belongings to a safer place.” They sleep indoors only when the skies are clear.

The flow of the river was destructive enough to ravage the power house of a barrage that is a few kilometres from the village. The barrage has been choked with silt.

Narayanbagar may thus be about to be effaced, but work on a 352 MW hydel project is set to begin in the fragile valley. This project will tunnel the Pindari along 27 km. The dumpyard for the project will be 4 km from Narayanbagar.

Bijendra said, “The dam will exacerbate the situation; blasting for the dam will make the mountains even weaker.”

Another resident, Harpal Singh Negi, said: “People have filled this fragile valley with houses. Though I don’t blame anyone for this, I suggest that there should be a scientific study of every region in the area so that the capacity of the mountains can be determined and houses built accordingly.”

Harpal’s suggestion may well carry the solution to the disaster that has hit Uttarakhand. After all, the government can neither compensate nor rehabilitate an entire State.

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