Natural Disasters

Uttarakhand cloudburst aftermath: Heavy water flow disrupts road connection to villages

 Large-scale mining has altered the course of the river

By Megha Prakash
Published: Monday 22 August 2022
Access to Sarkhet village has been totally cut due to the collapse of a bridge on the river. Photo: Megha Prakash
Access to Sarkhet village has been totally cut due to the collapse of a bridge on the river. Photo: Megha Prakash Access to Sarkhet village has been totally cut due to the collapse of a bridge on the river. Photo: Megha Prakash

Neeraj Panwar was woken up an-hour-and-a-half past midnight August 20, by his brother, who asked him in a trembling voice to look out of the window.

There was a noise, Panwar told Down To Earth, which he mistook for heavy rain that had started pouring around 11 pm, the previous night.

“Soon we realised that the Song river was furiously in spate. We started moving out of our homes, looking for safer spots,” Panwar said.

Panwar is a resident of Kumalda village in the Raipur block of Dehradun.

These photos show cloudbursts emergent pattern: Death, destruction deja vu

A cloudburst in the river’s upper reaches was followed by incessant rain through the night, adding to the river’s volume. But, Bikram Singh, director of the India Meteorological DepartmentDehradun, does not call the incidence a cloudburst. 

The region experienced heavy rainfall in 12 hours, Singh said in his statement. A cloudburst occurs when a region receives more than 100 millimetres of rainfall in an hour, according to the definition.

The valleys of the Song and Bandal merge in the Raipur block. Song river originates from the Radi top, the southern part of the Mussoorie ridge.

Numerous streams drain in to form the Song river. These rivers confluence at Maldevta. In the upper catchment of the Song, Chifaldi stream falls into Song at Tauliya Katal village. Ragad, Koti and Airla are bordering villages towards the upper course of the Song. They fall under the Chamba block of Tehri Garhwal. 

Extreme weather events

The region has been vulnerable to extreme weather events. Bandal flooded Sarkhet village August 15, 2014. 

The Maldevta Silla-Kyara motor road was washed away. The village has been facing such events every now and then. This year too, the village is in ruins. 

“Illegal mining continues in the name of riverbed material extraction, though Pyrite Phosphorite and Chemical Ltd (PPCL) abandoned underground mining after the Supreme Court’s Order in 1983,” a resident on condition of anonymity told Down To Earth

The resident had come searching for her brother from Premnagar in Dehradun. She was informed that her maternal home, 2 kilometres from the PPCL site, was now in rubble. 

One of the many reasons behind the incidence is the high-scale anthropogenic interference in the Song valley, according to Ayush Joshi, a Dehradun-based climate change researcher.

Raipur is categorised as a reserve forest, but in the recent past, it has seen a multi-fold increase in construction. For example, a dam is proposed on the river. Roads that connect the area to Tehri are being cut.

“Without any scientific study or assessment of  river, how can a dam be proposed on the river?” asks Reenu Paul, a Dehradun-based lawyer who has filed several petitions in her effort to conserve the valley.

Mining, encroachment and hill cutting

Numerous resorts and small eateries have encroached upon the riverbed. In recent years, mining has increased and the river has been tamed, alleged the villagers.

“Limestone was once mined in this region, but it was abandoned long ago. But now, mining has resumed in this region,” said Panwar.

Hill-cutting and encroachment on the riverbed, besides rampant construction, have added to the problem.

This has happened because few villagers have sold their land, making way for resorts.

The riverbed has been encroached. Large-scale mining has altered the course of the river. The Bandal river, which confluences with the Song river at Maldevta, is also a victim of mining.

The cloudburst occurred in Chhamroli village, just above Panwar’s village, Dhantu ka Sera.

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