The banks of the Bhagirathi and the Assi Ganga in Uttarkashi district are dotted with ‘river view’ hotels and ashrams.
“The sound of the Bhagirathi is powerful and holy near the ghat,” says Sanyasini Sharadha Giri, who has one an ashram on the banks of the Bhagirathi. But what she doesn’t say is that danger to life and property posed by the Bhagirathi and the Assi Ganga in spate during the monsoon is increasing every passing year.
People staged protests and went on strikes in Uttarkashi after the 2012 flash floods.
“Leave alone any respite from the situation, the authorities did not even build flood retention walls to save the area from future calamities,” said Viresh Raturi, a resident of Uttarkashi’s Bhatwari block.
The flash floods of 2013 caused damage worth Rs. 900 crore.
The lack of coordination between the district and State agencies, and lack of funds for flood protection, debris removal, road restoration and river channelisation works is apparent from the letters exchanged between Uttarkashi District Magistrate Sridhar Babu Addanki and the State Disaster Management Department that were exclusively accessed by The Hindu.
In a meeting held in January under the chairmanship of the former Chief Minister, Vijay Bahuguna, it was decided that the district would be given Rs. 150 crore for flood protection works.
NH vulnerable to landslips
“Out of Rs. 150 crore only Rs. 2.2 crore has been given till now,” Mr. Addanki said. More than eight months after the deluge hit Uttarkashi in 2013, the national highway that leads to the Gangotri shrine is vulnerable to major landslips at more than 16 spots.
The fund crunch has crippled the Border Roads Organisation’s efforts to restore road connectivity. Delay in fund allotment and slow road restoration works will cause problem during the Char Dham Yatra.
“There are cases of land sinking as well, which has been reported in four places in a stretch of 92 km in Uttarkashi,” Mr. Addanki told The Hindu.
“We got a survey done by the geologists and they have recommended that the river bed has been elevated by 2.5 metres from the normal level. This excess level has to be removed for the [Bhagirathi and the Assi Ganga] rivers,” he added.
Hemant Dhyani, member of Ganga Ahvaan, a movement for the conservation of the Ganga and the Himalayas, said: “Between December and February, the river level in the area is low. The work of removing debris from the river bed should be carried out during this time to subside the danger of further destruction of the highway and the buildings on the banks of the river during the monsoon season this year.”
In January this year, Mr. Addanki in his letter to the Secretary of the Disaster Management Department requested Rs. 5 crore and heavy machinery for the removal of debris from seven areas marked for the work. “For debris removal I have called a tender. There were bidders and we have already started the work.”