Laxman Singh, family moved into a cowshed after months of sharing one room in temporary accommodation.(Express photo by Lalmani Verma)
FOR 18 months now, Nandi Devi, who is in her 60s, has been living with her three grandchildren in a single room on the government hospital campus in Tharali tehsil of Chamoli district. She was shifted by the local administration to the hospital premises a day after a flash flood in a rivulet washed away her newly built house in Faldiagaon village in August 2019, along with 11 other families. Following last month’s flash flood in the same district, the government is finally moving on rehabilitating the families, along with those from other villages.
On February 11, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat cleared the rehabilitation of the families of Faldiagaon, another family from Sanedlaga Jingoda village in Gairsain tehsil of Chamoli, 30 families of Astal village in Uttarkashi and four each from Bethad village of Tehri Garhwal and Malladesh village of Bageshwar district. They would get funds for building houses at safer places, cowsheds and a rehabilitation allowance.
The families were identified by the state level rehabilitation committee of the Disaster Management Department as extremely vulnerable to natural disasters in their original villages.
Since 2012, 839 families in 32 villages of Uttarakhand have been rehabilitated, at a cost of Rs 35.67 crore, as per officials.
Sources in the Disaster Management Department said a total of 395 villages had been identified across the state as disaster-affected and vulnerable in 2015. Out of these, 225 villages had been covered on priority basis for a geological survey, leading to 73 villages being categorised as extremely vulnerable and selected for rehabilitation. Of these 73, so far 19 villages have been rehabilitated. In between, more villages have been identified depending upon calamities and rehabilitated.
Balbir Ram (34) of Faldiagaon has been sharing one room on the Tharali hospital campus with nine members of his family, including his wife and children, parents and three brothers. “The administration gave Rs 1.19 lakh as initial compensation. But that money is over. Till when will we stay in one room here?” he said.
Laxman Singh decided he couldn’t wait forever to be moved to larger quarters. “One room was not sufficient for my family. Finally we moved to a cowshed owned by a villager a few metres from the hospital.”
Village pradhan Rajendra Singh said the government had sanctioned Rs 51 lakh at the time for the 50 people in the 12 families affected in the August 8, 2019, flash flood, that had left two dead. “The families were moved out as the area is vulnerable. Landslides are possible if there is heavy rain. Let’s see when the families get the money,” Singh said.
According to Prem Singh Rana, “representative” of Malladesh village pradhan Vimla Devi, houses of four families in the village had developed cracks in the walls and roof after a cloudburst and landslide in August 2018, rendering the buildings unsafe. The administration had shifted the families to houses in the area abandoned due to migration, but their applications for the rehabilitation amount — to everyone from the Chief Minister’s Office down to the local administration — are still awaiting a response.
The Astal village’s 30 families had been identified for rehabilitation after landslides in 2010, 2012 and 2013. “Total 38 families were affected over three years. Only eight have been provided houses. The exercise to rehabilitate the other 30 families is hanging due to funds. They are living at houses of others in the village,” a revenue official in Uttarkashi said.
SA Murugesan, Secretary, Disaster Management, assures things will move fast now. “As CM sir has given approval on the proposal, we are in the process of releasing the money.” On the other villages awaiting rehabilitation, Murugesan said the exercise is in process, adding that apart from the Geology and Mining Departments, families, gram sabhas and local officials check availability of basic amenities at the new houses before rehabilitation.
Chamoli District Magistrate Swati S Bhadauriya said that in comparison to other similar cases for rehabilitation, the wait for 12 villagers of Faldiagaon will be shorter. She added that the villagers had been asked to start building their houses and money would come in instalments.
Nandi Devi, who is raising her grandchildren at the Tharali hospital room after one son passed away and another moved to work in a hotel in Delhi, said she can’t think of going back to Faldiagaon. “My grandchildren still live in fear. They start crying when it rains heavily here.”