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A Year After Flash Floods, Uttarakhand's Raini Village is Slowly Sinking

Its slopes rendered unstable by the 2021 flashfloods, Raini village has been declared unfit for living.

Updated
Climate Change
3 min read

"Our village will most certainly be washed away if it rains," says Prem Singh Rana, his voice choking at the memory of the Himalayan deluge that left over 200 dead in Uttarakhand's Chamoli district last year.

The 40-year-old, who lost his 75-year-old mother to the disaster, is a resident of Raini village – home to Gaura Devi of the 'Chipko Movement.'

While Raini village lost two of its members to the flash floods, the village itself is sinking each passing day and has been declared unfit for living as the slope on which it stands has become "unstable" in the wake of the disaster.

Overlooking the Nanda Devi range, the village stands just above the ruins of the Rishiganga Hydro Power Project, which vanished just seconds after gushing waters hit its concrete walls.

But even after being marked as an unsafe village and a year after being ravaged by the flash floods, residents of Raini are yet to be rehabilitated by the state government.

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The Dark Day

On the morning of 7 February 2021, Godambari Devi and her 75-year-old mother-in-law Amrita Devi had walked down to their field near the bridge. The weather was clear and the duo went about collecting leaves from the trees they had planted under a government scheme.

They had barely started working, when Godambari heard a strange noise.

"Suddenly, I could hear a noise and when I looked up, I could see big boulders tumbling down from the glacier. I told my mother-in-law that the broken glacier is making its way down to the river."

While Godambari was swept aside by the winds towards her village, her mother-in-law couldn't move from where she was. "I didn't see her after that day," she says.

The family kept looking for the 75-year-old for a month, before the government declared over 100 people missing in the incident as dead.

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What Caused the Disaster?

The flashfloods were caused by a temporary lake that was formed following an avalanche, says Professor YP Sundriyal, who has extensively studied the 2021 disaster.

"The Rishiganga flash floods were triggered by a huge avalanche, which had blocked the Ronthi stream. It could have been blocked for 8 to 13 hours. Following this, the debris that had blocked Ronthi stream broke due to pressure from accumulated water. After breaking open, the waters collected more debris on the way and completely destroyed the hydropower project below."
Professor YP Sundriyal, Department of Geology, Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University.

The avalanche had also blocked the Rishiganga river, leading to the creation of a dam at its confluence with the Ronthi stream – a fact that was discovered by a research scholar under the Professor a couple of days after the disaster.

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The Sinking Village 

While the flash floods killed over 200 – a majority of them working as labourers at the twin NTPC projects – it also disturbed the slope on which Raini village stands.

Infact, in August 2021, a team of experts had suggested that residents Raini be rehabilitated elsewhere as it had become "vulnerable and required adequate slope stabilization," reported news agency PTI.

Weakened by tremors generated from the flashfloods, the slope showed signs of further signs of trouble in October 2021, when villagers discovered large cracks on their walls and their fields.

"When it rained heavily in October this slope started sinking and cracks started appearing almost everywhere in the house. We fear that this land may slide if there's an earthquake or some other calamity."
Bacchan Singh Rana, Retired SSB Personnel

While residents say that the government has done little to rehabilitate them, the Chamoli district administration says that the paucity of government land has led to delays in shifting residents from the now vulnerable Raini village, which is also affected by erosion.

Till the government looks for a suitable land, the "villagers can buy their own land within Uttarakhand, on which they will be given a subsidy as per the state's rehabilitation policy," Himanshu Khurana, District Magistrate, Chamoli told The Quint.

While Khurana assured that the administration is doing its best to find available land, those vulnerable at Raini fear the worst.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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