Around 170 still missing in the tragedy in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli

14 people were killed, after a  glacier break at Joshimath triggered massive flooding of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers


It has been a tragic weekend where the loss of many lives, and many more still missing was reported from Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district. A glacier break triggered massive flooding of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers on Sunday. Multiple news reports have stated that amidst fears of more floods, many villages were evacuated. The gushing debris filled waters have already swept away five bridges, damaged homes and the nearby NTPC power plant, and a small hydro power project near Rishiganga.

Horrific visuals shared over social media and news channels showed the devastating burst of water rushing through the valley, destroying everything including bridges in its path. According to news reports authorities also emptied two dams in a bid to stop the flood waters from reaching Rishikesh and Haridwar, and barred people from going near the Ganga banks.

Rescue operations continue

According to a report by NDTV many people were injured, and the National and state disaster response teams and teams from the ITBP have been deployed, in the rescue mission. The Indian Army has sent six columns, and the Navy seven diving teams to the area. 

It has been reported that out of the 170 people who are still missing, 148 are employed at the NTPC plant and 22 employed at Rishiganga. Twelve people trapped in an under-construction tunnel were rescued by an ITBP team but around 30 more were reported to be trapped in a second tunnel. 

The rescue teams have recovered around 14 bodies and Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat visited Chamoli district on Sunday. He was reported as saying that a team of scientific experts will work to establish the exact cause of the disaster at a later stage. He also announced Rs 4 lakh compensation to the families of those killed, an additional Rs  2 lakh will be given from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, survivors with serious injuries will be given Rs 50,000 each.

It was reported that the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) met late Sunday evening and has said that based on information from the Central Water Commission (CWC) “there was no danger of downstream flooding at this point, and that the rise in water levels had been contained” adding that there was also no threat to the neighbouring villages, the NDTV reported. A 30-bed hospital was readied at Joshimath and hospitals in Srinagar, Rishikesh, Jollygrant and Dehradun were on standby. The Uttarakhand government has set up helpline numbers: 1070 or 9557444486.

Raini villagers had told HC that Rishi Ganga hydel project may cause disaster

It is crucial to recall that barely two years ago, residents of Raini villages had told the Uttarakhand High Court that the proposed Rishi Ganga hydel project may cause a disaster. The hydel project was just a few meters from their homes. The same was washed away in the sudden flash flood this weekend. According to a report in the Hindustan Times the debris that was not disposed upstream of the project, as per environmental norms, came gushing down with water creating havoc in the region. Now, “the only bridge connecting the village separated by the river has also been washed away,” the Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat informed, the other four bridges in the area have also been destroyed.

According to HT, the villagers had filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Uttarakhand High Court in 2019. The PIL was filed by one Kundan Singh on behalf of the scheduled tribe villagers from the village, reported HT. The PIL alleged that stone crushing and blasting activities in the terrain there caused wild animals to flee and enter Raini village. Taking note of those concerns, the HC had directed the district magistrate of Chamoli and member secretary state pollution control board to constitute a joint team to inspect the Rishi Ganga Hydroelectric Project site.  They were to report on the allegations made by the  villagers’ and “the impact on the environment and the locals due to the blasting and the stone crushing activity”, the HC had also stayed the blasting in the project area till further orders, stated the news report, adding that the project site in Raini village area falls under Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, just a few kilometres from Nanda Devi National Park.  It also reported that Gaura Devi, who is hailed as the protagonist of the Chipko movement, hails from Raini village and she had started the Chipko movement in March 1973, in this area.

The Rishiganga Hydroelectric Project (RGHEP) is a run-of-river hydroelectric project proposed for the development on the Rishiganga river, a tributary of the Alaknanda River in the Chamoli district. The project site is located close to the Raini village, approximately 27 kilometres from Joshimath. Several environmentalists have objected to back-to-back dams in Uttarakhand saying it was killing river Ganga and the local ecology. The Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, is also a UN recognised world heritage site.


According to a report in The Times of India, in a letter to the SDM of Joshimath in May 2019, the villagers wrote, “Since the stone crusher works are going on right in the middle of river, many wild animals, like deer, leopards, black bears etc. are entering our village, which increases risk to the wildlife. Despite the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve being a world heritage site, the stone crusher has not been set even 10 metres away.” 

However the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve DFO NB Sharma told the newspaper that, “the hydropower plant is not in the core zone, but in the buffer area. And some of the activities in the buffer zones are allowed if the company concerned meets all the relevant clauses set by the ministry.” 





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