A tree trunk is the only bridge that connects this Uttarakhand village to main land
Only the bravest among the residents of Ratgaon village in Chamoli dare to take a “bridge they recently built” to cross over to the other side of the swollen Pranmati river and reach the main land.
The bridge has no concrete pillars for support. There are no cables to hold it in place. There are no guards, rail or wooden, on either side of the make-shift structure.
Is it even a bridge, the skeptical may ask.
For the residents of Ratgaon it is. The “bridge” in question is a tree trunk — its two ends placed on boulders on two sides of the river. Villagers cling to it and crawl, one inch at a time, even as someone holds the trunk in place to prevent it and the ‘commuter’ from falling into the river and swept away.
That’s exactly what happened with Sujan Singh Bisht. The 50-year-old was swept away in the swirling waters of the river on Wednesday while assisting others from the village lay down one such “bridge”. His body is yet to be fished out.
Heavy rains in different parts of Uttarakhand over the past few days have affected normal life in the hill districts of the state, with a number of roads and bridges breached or washed out especially in Chamoli and Uttarkashi districts.
The situation in Tharali block of Chamoli, where Ratgaon is located, worsened after a cloud burst in Brahmatal area Sunday midnight saw Pranmati swelling up dangerously. Within hours, uprooted trees and other debris piled up near the only motorable bridge that connected the village with the main land. As the pressure built up, the gushing waters broke through sweeping away everything that came in its way. The motorable bridge too.
The flooded river also swept away a dozen shops at a small market in Dhadar, two houses, five cars, three motorcycles and a 50-KW hydro power project.
“Our village has remained cut off after the only bridge was washed away. Now, only the young and physically fit can undertake the risk to cross the river on the tree trunk,” said Balwant Singh, a resident of Ratgaon. “The old, the sick, children, and especially the pregnant women, have been forced to stay put in the village.”
Several craters have formed in the fields at Kuling village in Deval block and earth has caved in at some locations following flash floods caused by an overflowing Banganga River — also the result of the same cloud burst. Some 50 families in the village are living in fear.
It is also a testing time for the villagers of Wan in Deval block near Kuling where two bridges have been washed out. The village is now cut off from the main road in the valley.
“More than 400 families at our village are now apprehensive as they fear paucity of food grains, cooking gas, kerosene and other basic amenities,” said Devendra Singh, a social worker and resident of Wan village. “The government should at least create a pedestrian path. Locals are forced to make a detour of 15 kms through the rugged and risky terrains to reach the main road,” he added.
Sushil Rawat, former Tharali block chief, said villagers and members of Jagruk Manch have handed over a memorandum addressed to chief minister to the sub-divisional magistrate at Tharali. The villagers have demanded Rs 10 Lakh for the family of Sujan Singh whose body could not be recovered yet. They have also demanded Rs 7 Lakh each for the people who lost their shops in the calamity. They also demanded proper arrangement of food grains and other essential commodities in the area.
Contacted, SDM Rohit Meena said that the makeshift arrangement made to cross the Pranmati River has been removed by the administration on Thursday morning and the villagers of Ratgaon have been advised to take a detour instead of crossing the river with the help of a tree trunk. SDRF, medical team and administration is helping the villagers in Ratgaon and a team led by Tehsildar has been sent to Wan to assess the situation so that necessary action could be taken.
Makeshift_Bridge.jpg (People crossing the Pranmati river at Dhadar with the help of tree trunk)
Kuling.jpg (The fields of village Kuling caving in due to the swollen Wanganga river and heavy rains)