Natural Disasters

A ‘dead’ Ghaggar and its tributaries wrought havoc in Haryana early July; here is how

Ghaggar, Tangri, Markanda and others are considered dead rivers in the state and heavily encraoched upon; this monsoon, they reclaimed their floodplains, causing heavy losses    

By Mandeep Punia
Published: Monday 17 July 2023
Tangri river in Haryana’s Ambala district, had previously dried up. It breached its banks in early July. Photo: Mandeep Punia

Baljit Singh, a farmer from Segta village in Ambala district of Haryana, raised his right hand and pointed to a group of trees about 500 metres away. Gesturing in their direction, he said there had been a breach in the embankment of the Tangri river there and the village was subsequently flooded with water.

Singh is seeing the Tangri in this form after a gap of 10-12 years. He said, “The government has forgotten all these small rivers and turned them into dirty drains; whereas if they take care of their embankments and cleanliness, no problems would arise.”

The Tangri has affected about 50 villages of Ambala. But the bigger Ghaggar, which the Tangri finally joins, has affected six districts of Haryana (Panchkula, Ambala, Kaithal, Fatehabad and Sirsa), four of Punjab (Mohali, Patiala, Sangrur and Mansa) and two (Hanumangarh and Sriganganagar) of Rajasthan.

The Ghaggar and many of its tributaries originate in the Shivalik foothills of Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh. Among these tributaries, the Kaushalya, Tangri, Markanda, Beghna and Sukhna rivers are the ones that merge into the Ghaggar.

Vishwabandhu, assistant professor at Panjab University, explained:

The foothills of the Shivaliks, which for the most part was the catchment area of ​​the main river and its tributaries, are facing threats from growing residential settlements, industrial units and sewage. These rivers have been so badly encroached that it would be difficult to locate them on the ground.

According to him, the encroachement of the catchment area has converted these perennial rivers into seasonal rivers. The Kaushalya dam built in Panchkula is surrounded by settlements.

The floodplain of the Ghaggar has been reduced and made very small and as one goes further, traces of even the main channel have been completely obliterated at some places.

This monsoon, heavy rains in the Shivalik hills caused flash floods in the catchment areas of the Ghaggar and its tributaries. Due to this, many cities like Panchkula, Derabassi, Ambala and Shahabad have been flooded.

In Shahabad, a town on the Grand Trunk Road between Ambala and Kurukshetra, the Markanda river flowing on the edge of the city appeared to be about half a kilometre wide. Like the Tangri, the Markanda river had also broken its banks at many places.

Agriculture expert Ramandeep Mann said, “Both Tangri and Markanda rivers have been considered dead. People have obliterated the traces of even their main channels. Many residential colonies in Ambala Cantonment are built right around the bank of the Tangri.”

The condition of the Ghaggar is similar to the Tangri and Markanda. Mann said the river is encroached as soon as it enters the rural areas of Haryana as well as in urban areas such as Panchkula and Derabassi.

“The Ghaggar has been reduced to a drain. And now, its boundless form is scaring people,” he added.

At the end of Ambala district, the Tangri, Beghna and Markanda rivers meet the Ghaggar. Ramandeep said beyond the Ambala district, the Ghaggar had caused a lot of damage in the villages around the Khanauri border of Punjab-Haryana.

There, water flooded the villages of both Haryana and Punjab. The National Highway going from Sangrur to Delhi through Hisar has also been damaged  by the waters of the Ghaggar. This highway connects the Malwa region of Punjab to Delhi.

On July 15, 754.2 feet of water was flowing in the Ghaggar at the Khanauri border, six feet above the danger mark. The head gauges at Guhla Cheeka in Haryana on the Ghaggar had been submerged, due to which around 45 villages in the vicinity were submerged.

Manoj Thakur, a senior journalist who reports on Haryana, said encroachment had caused a lot of damage to the Ghaggar and its tributaries. Similarly, the Yamuna had been harmed by unscientific and illegal mining.

The embankments of the rivers have not been built for the last two years. The rivers have lost their natural balance due to mining and encroachment, Thakur said.

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