Uttarakhand flood: Raini villagers had raised alarm before HC around 2 years ago
The entire hydel project, just a few meters from their homes, was washed away in the sudden flash flood triggered by a glacial lake burst.
Nearly two years ago, residents of Raini villagers told Uttarkhand High Court that the construction of the Rishi Ganga hydel project could cause huge damage to them. On Sunday, their worst fears came true.
The entire hydel project, just a few meters from their homes, was washed away in the sudden flash flood triggered by a glacial lake burst. The incident claimed about seven lives while another 170 are feared missing.
The huge pile of muck which was not disposed upstream of the project, as per environmental norms, came gushing down with water creating havoc in the region. “The only bridge connecting the village separated by the river has also been washed away,” said Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat. Four other bridges in the area are also gone.
In the summer of 2019, the villagers had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Uttarakhand High Court which directed the state government to check what was going on in Raini village of Chamoli concerning the construction of the hydel project.
The High Court had directed the district magistrate of Chamoli and member secretary state pollution control board to constitute a joint team to inspect the Rishi Ganga Hydroelectric Project site in the district concerning the allegations levelled in the PIL and the impact on the environment and the locals due to the blasting and the stone crushing activity. The court had also stayed the blasting in the project area till further orders.
The project site in Raini village area falls under Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, just a few kilometres from Nanda Devi National Park. The protagonist of the Chipko movement, legendary Gaura Devi hails from Raini village and it was in this area where she had started the Chipko movement in March 1973.
The PIL was filed by one Kundan Singh on behalf of the scheduled tribe villagers from the village. The PIL alleged that stone crushing and blasting activities in the terrain there caused wild animals to flee and enter Raini village.
The Rishiganga Hydroelectric Project (RGHEP) is a run-of-river hydroelectric project proposed for the development on the Rishiganga river, a tributary of the Alaknanda River in the Chamoli district. The project site is located close to the Raini village, approximately 27 kilometres from Joshimath.
River Alaknanda and its tributaries, which flow through Chamoli, Rudraprayag, and Pauri Garhwal districts, have been dammed at many points. Some of the main hydel power projects (HEP) on Alaknanda and its tributaries include Rishiganga HEP, Vishnuprayag HEP (400 MW) near Joshimath, Peepal Koti HEP (444 MW) near Peepal Koti, Srinagar HEP (330 MW) and Tapovan Vishnuprayag HEP (520 MW).
Several environmentalists, such as Bharat Jhunjunwala and Ravi Chopra of People’s Science Institute, had objected to back-to-back dams in Uttarakhand saying it was killing river Ganga and the local ecology. “Anyone can come and blast the hills here for building a hydel project in name of development. Nobody cares for ecology and impact of its devastation on the locals,” Chopra said, adding that several Supreme Court orders have highlighted the devastation being caused. “Today’s incident is just another example of what we have done to our hill ecology,” he said.
Abhijay Negi, counsel of Raini village, said the project proponents of Rishi Ganga project since 2005 started practising environmentally hazardous activities such as stone crushing on the river bed and undertook blasting in the terrain there that forced wild animals to flee from the adjoining Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve and enter Raini village.
In 2019, he said, the matter of muck removal near Raini village also came up in the hearing. “The deputy advocate general appearing for the state requested that the matter be taken up on August 1, 2019, to enable him to ascertain whether any action has been initiated against the respondent no.6 (Rishiganga Power project) for their failure to clear the muck stored near the barrage and powerhouse,” the July 2019 order stated.
Negi said that villagers of Raini village had raised an alarm much in advance, warning that things were not fine in their area. Even the court issued two orders, but nothing much was done by the government. “I got a call from my petitioner in Raini village telling me that what we had been worried has finally come true and Nature has replied to the apathy of the government,” he said.
Officials said it was too early to estimate the damage caused to hydel projects at Raini village and Tapovan where the NTPC is building 530 MW project.