Report from the Research Trip to Uttarakhand

A reconnaissance trip was recently conducted in Uttarakhand to get a sense of the damage caused in the area by the cloud burst. The team consisted of Cdr (Retd) Lijo Chacko and Nithin Devarajan. A report from the trip has been given below.

Executive Summary

Background:
A cloud burst in upper Uttaranchal on 14 Jun, during the pilgrimage season caused severe loss of life and property in the area. Given the lack of accurate information on areas needing rehabilitation assistance, a reconnaissance team was sent without relief material to assess the situation on the ground along the Rudraprayag - Kedarnath Axis. The recce team traveled on a two-wheeler to avoid getting stuck on damaged roads as advised by multiple sources and left Delhi on 30th June and arrived at Rudraprayag on 1st July.

Gathering Information:
The team gathered information through the local government officials, Army personnel, and other social workers active in the area, locals from the villages and by trekking through damaged parts of the highway. The team found that most damage was concentrated on the commercial belt along NH109 catering to the pilgrims and villages with permanent settlement, which are situated away from the pilgrimage area and from the river were physically intact. The main concern remains the damage to arterial roads leading to disruption of food supply to the region.

Return to Delhi:
The team started back from Rudraprayag on 4th July, reaching Delhi the same day. Based on the information gathered, after a discussion in Delhi, the decision has been taken to focus on the affected area on the NH109 between Agastyamuni and Chandrapuri. A larger team (3-4) would leave (ideally a Bolero as it is used commonly by locals for managing the terrain), followed by a supply truck a day later. They would execute on 2 action items.

1) A 2-member team would set up a camp in a village 1-2km above Chandrapuri between the highway and an alternate road coming from Chopta (24km from Rudraprayag). The relief supplies would be prepacked for each family. The first consignment would follow a day behind the team from Delhi and bring supplies to cater to 150 families. An additional supply for 150 families would follow in 3-4 days with the camp remaining active for 7-10 days to distribute the material. The relief material for 300 families would cost about Rs. 2.0 Lacs with additional Rs. 0.50-1.0 Lac spent on transportation and distribution

2) A 1-2 member village assessment team would also travel at the same time to study the adjoining villages for a suitable and willing settlement which can be adopted by Ritinjali for transformation into a model village. The transformation may include- solar lighting, paving of walkways, smokeless wood-stoves, improved sanitation, agricultural productivity, alternate livelihoods, improved schools, waste disposal system etc. This team would be based in the relief supplies camp and would need to stay connected with the team in Delhi to work on the future plan of action. The cost of equipping and maintaining this team would be another Rs. 0.25 lakhs

Immediate Execution:
• Establishment of Camp
• Composite Packets
• Dispatch of Supplies
• Village Assessment Team
• Concept of Model Village
• Return to Delhi

Medium-Long Term Plan:
At the end of the 7-10 days period for distribution of relief material and identification of village for long-term sustainable improvement, the teams would return to Delhi for firming up the course of action over the next 1-2 years. Based on the long-term plan, volunteers and experts from various fields can visit the identified settlement over the 2 years.

Situation Analysis: Rudraprayag-Kedarnath Axis

Problem Statement:
• After the heavy damage caused by the recent cloudburst, there have been multiple conflicting reports on the type of relief efforts required from NGO’s
• The extent of damage to local villages and the specific need for carrying out rehabilitation is unclear

Scope:
• In scope: Identifying the need of locals in the area of NH-109 along the river Mandakani, between Rudraprayag and Kedarnath
• Out of scope: Relief; Search and rescue; other affected axes of Badrinath and Gangotri

Observations and Analysis

Damage:
1) There are patches of the highway along the river have been completely washed away at multiple points from Rudraprayag to Gaurikund (74 km) where the road used to end. Now the road ends at Sonprayag (6km earlier)
2) All settlements above Phata (56 Km from Rudraprayag and 18 Km from Gaurikund) were temporary with locals staying only for the pilgrimage season to run commercial establishments catering to the pilgrims. Maximum damage has been to such settlements
3) Apart from the damage caused directly by the cloud-burst, all other damage has been along the river which overflowed and washed away chunks of land from its banks (the national highway and settlements)
4) Though many permanent villages have not suffered any physical damage, they have lost breadearners who ran shops, lodges etc. along the pilgrim route above Phata.

Relief:
1) Relief material has reached most places either through alternate routes or after the BRO repaired parts of the highway.
2) Many places both above Guptkashi and near Agastymuni have abundance of relief material along the roads.
3) Villages have traditionally been away from the roads and the villagers continue to source food either from their own farms or by trekking to nearby supply depots
4) Certain settlements along the national highway are cut-off from all sides due to damages to the road and are too far from relief supply depots to trek to the same. Such places continue to struggle to get food E.g. Gavni and Chandrapuri.

Rehabilitation:
1) Villages damaged by the cloud burst were all in the higher reaches and therefore only temporary settlements established for commercial purposes. These do not seem to be ideal for focusing rehabilitation efforts
2) Settlements damaged along the national highway by the river were recent and most inhabitants relied on shops and lodges catering to tourists/pilgrims for their livelihood. They would like to use monetary compensations to move away to other areas as they have lost their land along with the houses
3) Houses to be built along this stretch would cost Rs 2-3 lakhs per 2 room houses, however with land having been washed off as well, this will have to wait till the government identifies a location for rehabilitation