2 years after Uttarakhand calamity, new homes still a dream for homeless

Gopeshwar: It is exactly two years since a devastating deluge in the state claimed thousands of lives and rendered hundreds homeless, but for a majority of those affected, a safe, new home still continues to be a distant dream.

While many said they are living in ramshackle, makeshift dwellings, others spoke of being condemned to carry on as refugees in neighbouring villages. As per official figures, as many as 1,800 of a total of 2,510 families are living precariously in houses which were declared unsafe and uninhabitable soon after the tragedy.

Flash floods which hit Uttarakhand on June 16-17, 2013, affected more than one lakh people living in around 4200 villages. Dozens of villages and human settlements were washed away by floodwaters in the worst hit districts of Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Pithoragarh, Bageshwar and Uttarkashi, leaving hundreds of families homeless.

Two years on, little has changed for the residents of most of the affected villages, barring just a handful in Chamoli district. Semi village located en route to Kedarnath near Guptkashi in Rudraprayag district serves as an example of the sorry state of affairs.

Rising waters of a furious Mandakini river had caused massive landslides in the village, prompting a decision by the administration to relocate the whole habitation. However, despite the passage of two years, that shift is yet to be effected.

"Left with no choice, people are forced to live in their ramshackle, half-broken houses despite being aware of the dangers of doing so," says Semi village chief Yogendra Bisht. "Some of the houses in this village had been declared completely damaged and unsafe for habitation, but their residents have not got their alternative houses fully built yet," said Bisht.

Kalimath, Chilaund and Chandrapuri villages of Rudraprayag district are facing a similar situation. Initially, there were plans to relocate these villages. However, the state government is now building new homes for the affected families at the same unsafe location with the help of World Bank, claimed Bisht.

The state government had paid Rs 5 lakh and allotted 40 sq.m of land to to each homeless family to build their own homes using disaster-resistant methods under 'self home- building programme'. The scheme under the World Bank-aided project was applicable to a total of 2,510 families of which only 710 have been able to build their houses so far, said Nand Kishore Joshi, Disaster Management Officer of Chamoli.

Talking about Chamoli district in particular, he said a total of 584 families are building houses under the programme of which 113 have finished doing so their while the rest are in different stages of construction. Each house contains two rooms, a verandah, a kitchen and a toilet, said the co-ordinator for the project in Chamoli, Prakash Raturi.

"The houses are also being insured by the state government and being built using quake-resistant methods considering the area's susceptibility to earthquakes and other types of natural disasters," Raturi said. But families in Bhyundar and Pulna villages of Chamoli district, which were completely washed away in the floods in Pushpavati river on June 17, complain that no rehabilitation plan has as yet been worked out for them.

Bhyundar resident and former Zila Panchayat member Bhawan Singh Chauhan said that the families in the village lost all they had in the floods, but there have been efforts to aid them. Chauhan said the residents of his village had proposed that they be moved to Kanjila, but even though officials have claimed to be exploring the prospects for relocation, nothing has come of those endeavours.

Condemned to living like vagabonds almost, over 100 families which lived in Bhyundar and Pulna villages have taken refuge in neighbouring hamlets, said Chauhan, who lost both his home and hotel in the deluge.

"More than half the villages being built with government aid are located in areas vulnerable to disasters in Pulna," alleged Chauhan. "Villagers are telling the authorities of the dangers involved in relocating them in the same area, but geological scientists and the administration cannot not see the problem. "Rocks have several times fallen on the under-construction houses in these areas during the past year," he added.

"It is strange how geological scientists and the administration allowed construction of new houses for the homeless in areas already damaged (after the floods) despite being aware of their vulnerability to natural calamities.

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