Land in some villages in Chamoli district’s Joshimath block are sinking

A series of houses — half-destroyed, half standing — with crumbled walls, forms the periphery of Lambagar, a village that is sinking into oblivion.

Though the village was ravaged by floods during the mid-June deluge, it appears as if it was hit by flash floods just hours ago. Temporary road restoration work is all that has been done since disaster struck in June. Land in Aruri-Paturi, Padagaasi and Lambagar — all of which are villages under the Khiron-Lambagar gram sabha in the Chamoli district’s Joshimath block — has started sinking. Within 10 to 12km more than 500 families in 10 villages, including Lambagar, Pandukeshwar and Govindghat, have been marked as ‘disaster affected’. Located between 6,000 to 6,500 feet above sea level, these villages are waiting for another disaster to exacerbate the quagmire they are in.

Flouting environmental norms

Jaiprakash Power Ventures Limited’s 400-MW Vishnuprayag hydropower project, which is around 1 km upstream of Lambagar, is flouting environmental norms by depositing muck on the riverside. Repair and restoration work is going on in the barrage that was damaged in June. Govind Singh Panwar, a resident of Pandukeshwar village, which is 5 km downstream of the barrage, says: “Lakhs of tonnes of muck is being deposited into the Alaknanda river on the barrage site.”

The river bed in downstream areas, he says, has been elevated by almost 8 metres due to the muck deposited during the mid-June disaster. Aggravating the situation, the dam authorities are emptying all the muck into the river. This, according to him, will elevate the river bed as soon as the water level in the Alaknanda rises during next monsoon.

Post-disaster relief and rehabilitation

Prevention walls have not been built to stop further erosion of the river banks. Chamoli District Magistrate S.A. Murugesan says: “The estimate has been sent for work regarding riverside protection. The work will start as soon as the funds are released.” However, according to Kushal Singh Rawat, a resident of Lambagar: “The entire market which comprised around 40 stores, agricultural land, vehicles, houses, a primary school, the Panchayat Bhawan, all of it got swept away during disaster.” Another resident of Lambagar, Harendra Chauhan, says: “All the people whose houses were completely damaged in the deluge have not received their due compensation yet. Only a few have received Rs2 lakh. Others are still waiting.”

There are around 140 families in the village. Its residents usually travel to Aruri-Paturi, Khiron, and Lambagar, all of which are villages in the Khiron-Lambagar gram sabha. However, the makeshift bridge to the villages, villagers say, is not safe. This has forced them to take shelter in the village, in cracked houses on a land that is sinking. Rakesh Lal, who lives in the village, says: “In November we were called at a meeting to discuss the issue of alternative residence. We were given a choice to take prefabricated huts or Rs. 5 lakh to construct our own houses. We stated our choices, but, there has been no communication from the authorities after that meeting.”

However, according to Mr. Murugesan there has only been a delay because the State government is yet to fulfil certain conditions laid down by the World Bank, which is funding the construction of prefabricated huts. “ “The beneficiaries have been identified,” he says.