It is 11 in the morning and a few women, including 18-year-old Alka, are busy working in small mountain fields in Badasu village, 230 km up of Dehradun. Mandakini river, true to her name, meanders calmly and unhurried alongside the village.
But this day two years ago, the river was in a furious rush, fuelled by the overflowing Chorabari lake 13,000 feet above the sea level. The flash floods swept through districts Pauri Garhwal and Rudraprayag that houses holy pilgrimage sites, and washed away infrastructure worth millions of rupees and killed more than 5,000 people.
The Badasu village lost 24 men – most of them in their productive age— who were out for work near the Kedarnath shrine. Alka’s 17-year-old brother, the only hope of the family to stay afloat in the impoverished village, was among the dead.
“Men used to work at Kedarnath and nearby stopovers. My brother was learning to work. I was optimistic that my brother will start his career and I will join degree college,” said Alka.
Her two elder sisters are married but Alka neither intends to marry nor pursue studies. “I am now the son for my parents. I will support them in all possible ways and all through my life,” said Alka, with her face turning taut to hold back the waves of emotions.
Watch:Two years on, Uttarakhand flood victims struggle to put their lives together
The state government offered families compensation of Rs 2,00,000 for every relative who went missing in flash floods that struck on June 16, 2013. It also cut down the normal waiting period of seven years before a missing person can be declared dead, allowing people to claim the compensation early. The government allowed businessmen and people to claim relief for lost properties too.
In Rudraprayag district, the government disbursed Rs 100 crore as compensation. “We paid compensation as per the norms of State Disaster Relief Fund. Moreover government was flexible enough to extend limit of compensation,” Raghav Langer, Rudraprayag district magistrate, told HT.
However, compensation hasn’t launched every disaster victim’s life back into normalcy.
Septuagenarian Kamla Devi in Badasu village walks with a slight limp caused by swollen legs. She is out in the field to make up for the loss of her 25-year-old son, and support her diminished family of a son, his wife and two kids. Her elder son was in Kedarnath with his mule ferrying pilgrims when they were washed away.
“We received compensation from the government but daily exigencies ate it up. My elder son is seeking work but no luck yet,” she said as her eyes turned moist.
The economy of the region rides piggyback on pilgrimage to the four holy sites. The mid-June deluge had destroyed the livelihood of people. But things are looking up. The Rishikesh–Kedarnath highway that was damaged or washed away at more than 40 points has been repaired. A 220-km drive from Rishikesh to Sonprayag feels comfortable, bringing in more tourists. It has helped the state overcome the historic fall in tourist count in 2014.
Reconstruction works have picked up pace in the last one year in Rudraprayag, home to Kedarnath shrine which draws thousands of pilgrims every year. International funding agencies – the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank — have together promised Rs 1,700 crore for the reconstruction works, mostly in Rudraprayag.
Mool Chand, a tour operator from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh who has come on Char Dham pilgrimage with 38 pilgrims, said the roads looked like what they were before the deluge.
The tourism sector might be throbbing, and the compensation might have been a springboard for businessmen to start afresh, but money could do little to rehabilitate farmers of Giwala and Sauri villages located close to Mandakini river.
Their major source of income was the 10 hectares of highly productive land where they grew wheat, rice and vegetables. Their land was washed away within minutes as the river swelled and changed course.
“No one was killed in our village but flash floods broke the backbone of our economy. Nothing is left, I will soon move out of village with family preferably to Dehradun and do something else” says Trilok Singh, a farmer who lost interest in farming.
In the flash floods, 1,234 houses were damaged in the state, of which 844 houses were either washed away or badly damaged. Migration from Kedar valley seems to be high on the mind of people in the valley.
And property dealers seem to have read their mind, and have come out with flex boards offering “affordable land” in Dehradun. Such advertisements are pinned high at several spots on the Rishikesh-Kedarnath highway, trying to lure people who have received compensation of Rs 5 lakh to construct new houses.
In the remote area in Tilwara (Augustyamuni), 170 km from Dehradun, retired education department official RP Chamola has been running his private intermediate school for the past 13 years. The surging Mandakini river had filled the ground floor of his building with sand and destroyed science laboratory. It is one of the private schools wrecked by the floods in the state.
According to the government figures, 384 state-run schools were destroyed in the floods. “Several parents are not able to pay fees after the disaster and many others are leaving. I have less than 300 students left while I have 18 employees to look after. I am clueless how long I will be able to run the institution,” said Ramola.