Known for Chipko, Raini village now unfit to live in
Raini village in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand from where the Chipko movement started in 1973, and which bore the brunt of a glacial lake outburst flood in February is likely to be shifted elsewhere on the recommendation of geologists working for the Uttarakhand government who found the slope on which the village stands unstable, and therefore, unfit for habitation.
On February 7, Raini suffered extensive damage on account of the flood, which swept away the Rishiganga hydel project and National Thermal Power Corporation’s Tapovan Vishnugad project and killed around 200 people. The incident, according to a report by geologists from the Uttarakhand Disaster Recovery Initiative (UDRI) submitted to the Chamoli district magistrate in July, destabilised Raini, whose most famous resident to this day remains Gaura Devi, one of the founding members of an environmental movement that started when she and a few other women hugged trees to prevent them from being felled for timber.
“The Raini village is facing serious slope stability problems where the whole area is affected by active subsidence whereas downslope is affected by toe erosion. During investigation wide cracks were observed in the walls and floors of many houses indicating active slope movement in the area. It is therefore advisable to rehabilitate Raini village to an alternative safe location,” said the report, a copy of which has been seen by HT.
Located at the confluence of the Rishiganga and Dhauliganga rivers, Raini saw wide cracks (5-10cm) develop on the roads . The report said that the high-flow intensity of the flood may have disturbed the slope. On top of the slope face, there is an active slide zone from where large rock chunks continue to fall.
During a field visit by the geologists, they observed that the material that forms the slope is highly saturated due to incessant rain. Chamoli district received heavy rain in mid-June that triggered landslides at many places. On June 14, about 40 metres of the road at Raini broke off and was engulfed by the Dhauliganga on the Joshimath-Malari route, cutting off Army and Indo Tibetan Border Police posts and villages along the India-China border.
“There are several slope instability-related concerns in Raini following the February 7 glacier breach. It’s up to the government now to take forward our recommendation to rehabilitate the village,” said Manish Semwal, slope stabilisation expert, UDRI.
But the villagers aren’t keen on being relocated. “First, the villagers have to agree to relocation and rehabilitation. They haven’t agreed yet. They are looking for suitable government land to relocate. They have to find that land first, have a gram panchayat meeting approving rehabilitation and then send the proposal to state government for us to process it,” said S A Murugesan, secretary, Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority.
In his book ‘The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya’ historian Ramachandra Guha wrote that Raini’s “importance in the saga of the Chipko andolan is twofold. It was the first occasion on which women participated in any major way, this participation, moreover, coming in the absence of their own menfolk and DGSS activists. As Gaura Devi recounted, it was not a question of planned organisation of the women for the movement, rather it happened spontaneously…secondly, no longer could the government treat Chipko merely as the reaction of motivated local industry deprived of raw material. “
Climate Trends, a Delhi based communications organisation that is tracking Raini’s case study said the climate crisis and unplanned development in recent years has made several parts of Uttarakhand extremely vulnerable.
The Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development had also underlined the link between the February 7 disaster with the climate crisis and infrastructure development, particularly the construction of hydropower projects in the higher reaches of the Himalayas.
Professor Y P Sundriyal, head of department, geology, HNB Garhwal University, said, “Higher Himalayas, both climatically and tectonically, are highly sensitive, so much so, that construction of mega hydro-projects should be avoided. Or else they should be of small capacity. Secondly, the construction of roads should be done with all scientific techniques. At present, we just see roads being made or widened without taking proper measures such as no slope stability, lack of good quality retaining wall, and rock bolting. All these measures can restrict the damage done by landslides to some extent.”
“There is a huge gap between planning and implementation. For instance, rainfall patterns are changing, temperatures have been increasing along with extreme weather events. Policymakers should be well versed in the geology of the region. There is no denying the fact of development but hydropower plants, especially in the higher Himalayas should be of lower capacity. Policy and project implementation should consist of local geologists who understand the terrain well and how it responds,” added Sundriyal in a statement by Climate Trends.
When HT visited Raini village after the February 7 disaster, elderly villagers that the floods were unprecedented and that extreme rain was affecting the village every year.