River experts and geologists demand accountability for Rishi Ganga disaster
- Rescuers have so far retrieved 38 bodies and at least 166 people are still missing and feared dead following the flash floods on February 7.
River experts, geologists and environmental activists from different parts of the country sought accountability for the Rishi Ganga glacial breach disaster in a web meeting on Saturday. Rescuers have so far retrieved 38 bodies and at least 166 people are still missing and feared dead following the flash floods on February 7.
“The dams should have a system of disseminating early warnings and by early warning I do not mean a sign board that reads going near the river can be dangerous. Unfortunately, in the 21st century we still don’t have any systems in place. The workers had the time to vacate had they known. Also, a lot of muck had been dumped at the head of the Tapovan tunnel which amplified the impact of the flood pushing people deep inside it with muck,” said Navin Juyal, retired geologist from the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad.
“Two events took place on February 7. To say that the glacial breach was an act of god is one thing but we have to understand how the disaster amplified. The glacial breach and the ice and debris came down with a lot of power. When such floods occur they destroy all barriers in their way and pick up more sediment from the barrier. The glacial breach can be ascribed to nature but what about the barriers and obstructions in its way?” asked Ravi Chopra, director of the People’s Science Institute and head of the Chopra committee on hydroelectric projects set up by the Supreme Court in the aftermath of the 2013 flash floods in Uttarakhand which killed over 5000 people.
“Our committee was asked if hydroelectric projects were destroying the ecology of the region. We had said yes. We had also mentioned that siting hydroelectric projects in the paraglacial zone (above 2000 metres) could accentuate disasters,” he added. Chopra, however, added that “the era of dams is possibly over. Hydropower is expensive. It is costing ₹6 to ₹8 per unit to produce whereas solar power is costing ₹2 to ₹2.5 to produce. Soon nobody will want to buy hydropower,” Chopra said.
Uttam Lal, assistant professor (geography), Sikkim University said the entire high mountain region in India is vulnerable to such events and changes in microclimate along with climate change make these regions very vulnerable. “The glacial breach happened at 3600 metres altitude which came down with debris and ice traversing 12 km at 2000 metres altitude and at a 45 degree slope. The slope is high. We should understand the terrain of the region and how microclimatic changes can contribute to such disasters.”
The meeting was organised by India River’s Forum, Water Conflicts Forum, People’s Science Institute, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, Mattu Jan Sangathan and others.