Residents of Charu Khet say they would have been languishing in apathy if not for the deluge

It is a small hamlet of about a dozen households just off the national highway near the Narendra Nagar bypass in Tehri district. And Charu Khet is noticeable only because of a huge mass of stone and concrete that has spilled all over the only road that connects the hamlet to the rest of the district.

Residents here have been petitioning the district administration for removal of the debris, but it has turned out to be an endless wait. Small children and women take measured steps as they pass over the rubble, careful not to fall into the gorge below.

The June 17 rains and subsequent flash floods have left the houses intact, but wiped off the farms the hamlet was dependent on. S.S. Rana, a resident, points to a debris-covered land mass and says it was his farm. A claim that sounds almost untrue, given the extent of damage and the near invisibility of what would have been a farm. “A large boulder came crashing down first and damaged our water tank, after that the whole farm area was destroyed. We were scared, but luckily survived. And since then we have been waiting for relief,” he says.

With their farms gone, the families are dependent on their goats, but it is an existence that is tough to say the least.

“We have been petitioning the government since 2008 for our rehabilitation since the area is prone to landslips. But the government has sanctioned the construction of a road above, which has further weakened the hills and has led to frequent landslips in the area. No one seems to care,” he says.

Bhagi Devi, another resident, says the flood and destruction have momentarily focussed attention on the villages and the government’s apathy to them, but once the rescue is complete, she fears they will be back into oblivion.

A little distance away is another hamlet that local residents say is known as Agar. “It is known more as the sinking village,” says Dinesh Rawat, a resident. A cluster of houses here have been “sinking” into the ground and houses get flooded with each rain.

“There are huge cracks and there is dampness everywhere, we were promised relocation, but nothing has been done so far. The administration has been lax,” he says.

Even as the Uttarakhand administration on Thursday claimed it would shift focus on rebuilding the ravaged parts of the State and rehabilitate the locals, the mood on the ground is despondent. At various stops along the route to the Tehri Dam, residents complain of several deficiencies in administration.

Bad condition of roads, slow development and rehabilitation, poor economic growth, inadequate medical facilities, the list of complaints is long and the villagers are wary that once the brouhaha over the floods subsides, it will be back to a life of struggle and empty promises.

While the Tehri Dam is being projected to have mitigated the impact of the floods by containing a large quantum of rainwater, villages around the dam site have enough reasons to complain, inaccessibility being the main concern. The Tipri-Madan Negi ropeway, constructed to ferry villagers of Pratap Nagar block across the Tehri Dam, is a godsend for us, says Sushma of Pratap Nagar.

It takes only an 8-minute, Rs. 10-per-trip journey across the jaded waters of the Bhagirathi compared to the bus journey that takes 3 hours 30 minutes.

“There are just two bus trips a day and each lasts about three and a half hours from Pratap Garh to Tipri. The ropeway has come as a boon, even though its hours are limited. Pratap Ghar is flood-prone, it is cut off from the mainland and the people are poor, yet there is little that has been done by the government,” says Harish Rana, who works as an operator and is a national bravery award winner.

When the floods struck, the ropeway was used to evacuate as many as 15,000 in a matter of few days. “Imagine, if this wasn’t here, how would people have rushed to safety. Even today, the only people still in the village are the ones who cannot afford to shift and are totally dependent on what they grow. Even if there is relief for now, what about the future?” asks Prem. The area is prone to heavy landslips. On Thursday, in a matter of hours, there were at least three fresh incidents, cutting off access.

Fresh landslips

Fresh landslips and the sudden change in weather — visibility was substantially reduced even at noon — would make the last mile the most daunting.

On Thursday, the Uttarakhand administration claimed to have opened the Joshimath, Uttarkashi, Yamnotri and Guptkashi roads and restored connectivity to 1,636 villages, but when the villages will have real access is not known.