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Millennium Post

‘This deluge was new, even for my 95-year-old grandmother’

More than 20 tents are spread across the sprawling grounds of Bikash Bhavan at Ladri Joshala of Uttarkashi district. Ramesh Singh Rana, 38, and his 12 family members from flood-ravaged Dhanpur village have been living here since 16 June along with 30 other families. ‘My two-storey building was completely washed away around 9 am on 16 June,’ says a distressed Rana, a small farmer and shopper. ‘On that unfortunate day, very early in the morning, police forcibly evacuated us without giving us a chance to carry useful items with us. All our life savings and the little jewellery we had were carried away by the water,’ says Rana, in a sulking tone. Rana’s house was beside the riverbank but at a height of more than six metre. ‘The water had never touched our house for as long as I can remember,’ says Rana. He laments over inadequate government relief measures. ‘I don’t have clothes. I have continued wearing the same clothes since the day we were displaced. The lives of families here have become hellish as nobody is here to care for us,’ he says. A local NGO is providing help by arranging food for the community. Water has receded from his village but there was nothing resembling a shelter to shift back into, he adds. Munish Tiwary, a small farmer of Guttu village in Tehri Garhwal district had a similar story of government apathy. He recollects the unfortunate night of 17 June. His two-storey building was around 50 metre above the riverbank. ‘It was around 2 am on that dark night when water started gushing into our village amid incessant rain. The scene was more horrible than anyone had anticipated. This deluge was new even for my 95-year-old grandmother,’ says Tiwary.

‘There was panic; shouts of help filled the air and my 12 family members and I ran out and rushed to our relative’s house situated at a higher altitude,’ says 31-year-old Tiwary. ‘From my relative’s house, we watched the disaster unfold with sinking hearts. My house was uprooted and washed away along with other houses. By then, it was dawn. My house was carried away for a hundred metres and then it collapsed.’

The water receded, but nothing was left to collect or retrieve. Government officials visited and surveyed the area, but no substantial help has yet been given, claims Tiwary. Another survivor is Dwarika Prasad Semwal of Baggi village, Dunda block, Uttarkashi district. He is a small farmer and social activist. This disaster was not new for his village. A landslide took place in 1997 which had made the village more vulnerable to the river Jalkar. The river erodes the soil of the village routinely, forcing people to move. Locals were aware of this, but had never experienced something of this magnitude.

‘We received information on 17 June that around 15-20 villages around the district headquarters had drowned in the waters and were washed away. Because of earlier warnings, we have shifted our base and managed to contain the damage,’ says Semwal, who sheltered at Gangori mountain and is involved in rescue operations. ‘We have not got help from government yet,’ adds Semwal, who mustered a group of 15 volunteers to help rescue pilgrims and provide them aid.

On arrangement with Down to Earth magazine

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