UTTARKASHI/RUDRAPRAYAG: Chandrabhaga (42), a mother of three, lives in Dirsari village nestled at hilltop on the other side of Bhagirathi river en-route Gangotri. One of her sons need medical attention. The lone suspension bridge over the river was swept away in June 2013 flash floods. After the village remained cut off from rest of the world for three weeks, a cable car was set up. Additionally, state government also sanctioned ₹622 lakh for a foot bridge that was to be completed by September 2016. The deadline’s over. Even the pillars for the bridge have not been erected.
The cable car operates between 7.30am and 5pm. In between there is a lunch break for one hour. There are days when the technical snags or fuel shortage brings the cable car to a halt. Time management now is the key to survival for Chandrabhaga and 1,500-odd residents of Dirsari and two other neighbouring villages.
“Our life dangles between hope and despair. We have repeatedly faced natural disasters. Those who can afford, have preferred to migrate,” Chandrabhaga says while rushing to Uttarkashi to seek medical advice for her son.
The Bhagirathi valley has remained marred by natural disasters. An earthquake in 1991 resulted in major loss of life and property. Widespread rains created havoc in 2002. By the time locals rebuilt their lives, nature’s fury struck again in 2010 followed by flash floods in 2013. These disasters have left people hopeless in the valley.
Hardships and locals
It has been 42 months since the flash floods killed over 5,000 people in Kedarnath valley alone besides turning infrastructure worth millions into rubble across Ganga river basin. The disaster changed the social and demographic dynamics in the river valley. Massive reconstruction works were undertaken in the Kedarnath valley; some of it still going on. In fact, Kedarnath valley remained in focus perhaps due to media glare but it was not the case with Alaknanda and Bhagirathi valleys.
Bhagirathi valley was equally badly affected. Though there was no human loss but the livelihood options were severely affected. Bhagirathi river changed its course resulting in loss of thousands of hectares of fertile land.
Mahendra Chauhan who runs a tea stall at Gangotri highway close to the river, hails from a nearby village. He had opened the tea stall two years ago after his farmland was swept away in the gushing waters.
“We are marginal farmers. Our source of income was fish farming and small produce of millets but that is all passé now,” he says.
Kilometers away, in the small market of Chalethi, Kuldeep Rawat (21) earns a living selling instant noodles and tea to tourists heading to Gangotri. Ku;deep hails from a family of farmers. His father had taken a loan to him pursue his diploma in engineering but before he could graduate, the flsh floods struck. “I am yet to complete the course. In the meantime, I am doing my bit to support the family, he says.
Politics as usual
The political parties, meanwhile, are engaged in a high pitch campaign. Chief minister Harish Rawat has accused Narendra Modi government of not releasing ₹2000 crore as demanded by state for reconstruction works. “The retaining walls on the banks of Saraswati and Mandakini rivers could not be constructed as we have no funds and Centre refused to support,” Rawat claims.
The voters, however, are keeping cards close to their chest. Vineet Butola, a young voter, has some questions for candidates. “Will they (candidates) assure we will get electricity for more than 12 hours a day? Will they protect our farms from wild animals? Will they assure time bound completion of the uncompleted works?,” he asks.