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HindustanTimes Fri,28 Nov 2014

Uttarkashi residents seek govt support to combat disasters

Nihi Sharma Sahani, Hindustan Times   Uttarkashi, June 09, 2014
First Published: 15:14 IST(9/6/2014) | Last Updated: 15:24 IST(9/6/2014)

Having witnessed two consecutive disasters in 2012 and 2013, residents of Uttarkashi district are infuriated with the inadequate arrangements and support from the state government.

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With the onset of June, villagers in areas adjoining the city have started praying to Lord Indra, the God of Rain, to be merciful and not bring another disaster.

Hindustan Times organised a meeting with activists, political leaders and non-government organisation workers at Uttarkashi.

Various issues were highlighted during the deliberation.

Here are some excerpts:

NO CLEAR GUIDELINES ON CALAMITY RELIEF FUND

Majority of the members present at the meeting were dissatisfied with the unclear guidelines of the calamity relief fund (CRF).

According to them, CRF guidelines are viable in plain areas of the country and not in the hill areas.

Harish Dangwal, corporator Gangori ward shared, "Uttarkashi was affected in two consecutive years. Some victims of 2012 were compensated and most were left out. When 2013 disaster was witnessed, the situation became confusing. The district authorities had to deal with pending cases of 2012 disaster and fresh cases of 2013 disaster. Owing to unclear guidelines of CRF, some were provided compensation and others were not. This created agitation among victims."

According to locals, those with political influence managed to receive compensation, while others were left out.

"For example, a property which was destroyed during disaster belonged to 3 brothers. The loss should have been equally distributed among the brothers. But, the compensation was provided to the one residing in the property. In addition, full compensation was not provided anywhere. Victims have received only first installment of compensation. They are still awaiting the remaining amount," Radhika of a self help group said.

Residents said that the disaster washed away agriculture lands.

In hills, farming areas turned into meadows that were filled with water. Farmers could not do farming and thus, their livelihood was affected.

Shailendra Matuda, secretary Hotel Association said, "There should be a disaster policy for Uttarakhand. The policy should be clear about compensation to be given to victims. The geography of our state is different from other states of the country and so, CRF guidelines which are applicable in other states, do not apply here."

FUTILE EFFORT TO CHANNELISE BHAGIRATHI

The government has tried to channelise River Bhagirathi so that during disaster, the flow would be divided.

In this regard, cemented drains and small walls were built in the main river.

Residents oppose this move as they believe it's a loss of money.

"The government has tried to channelise River Bhagirathi by dividing its flow into two parts. This was done with cemented walls. Rs. 17 crore is being utilised for the process. But, the question is will this strategy work? The floods are so massive that they will break the cemented walls. However, with this step, the government has put people residing on both sides at risk," Kirit Dutt Nautiyal, Dhanali chairman said.

In Uttarkashi, JCB machines were channelising River Bhagirathi at various places.

There is no record of river bed material (RBM) that has accumulated in heaps along the river.

The government has not even cleared RBM which poses a further risk.

Dinesh Semwal, an advocate said, "RBM has accumulated along River Bhagirathi which hasn't been cleared. If floods come, then RBM will flow along with the river course destroying banks and construction. Rs. 17 crore came for channelising the river and clearing RBM."

DISASTER: A RESULT OF HYDROPOWER PROJECTS

According to locals, unplanned development and hydropower projects have made Uttarkashi fragile and therefore, it has become disaster-prone.

Surendra Puri, a social activist shared, "Hydropower projects on River Bhagirathi and Asi Ganga played a key role in bringing disaster of 2012 and 2013. Maneri Bhali phase 1 and 2, Tehri, Koteshwar, Harsil, Pilangad, Bhilangana and other projects have made Uttarkashi sensitive."
 
SLOW RELIEF WORK

Residents also complained that post June 2013 disaster, the actual work began in 2014.

The residents complained that if relief work could have started last year, tourism would not have been affected in this Char Dham yatra season.

Buddhi Singh, an RTI activist shared, "The government started relief this year which should have started last year itself."


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