Rishiganga deluge may trigger fresh migration from hills

Dehradun, Feb 14 (IANS) From devastating earthquakes to calamitous floods, natural disasters are bringing widespread death and destruction to the highly fragile hills of Uttarakhand.

At a time when the horror of the Kedarnath tsunami has not dissipated completely, the Rishiganga deluge has created fresh fears in the minds of the people living in the high hills and may trigger a fresh wave of migration, which is considered as a highly sensitive issue.

After the calamitous Kedarnath floods, hundreds of people from the the ravaged areas like Agustmuni in Rudraprayag district migrated to Dehradun in the plains and elsewhere mainly due to safety reasons.

Aruna Benjwal, chairperson of Agustmuni nagar panchayat, claimed that nearly 35 to 40 people have migrated to the plains from Silli village alone. “Scores of people have also made arrangements in such a way that they live in Dehradun during winter and come back to Kedarnath area in the summer,” Kedarnath MLA Manoj Rawat said.

“When these types of disasters strike, it is very natural that the people may think of migrating to the plains,” said S.S. Negi, Vice Chairman of the Rural Development and Migration Commission which was set up the state government on the vexed issue of migration from hills.

According to an official estimate, nearly 1,500 villages out of the total 16,000 villages in the state have already been declared ghost meaning devoid of any inhabitant. “Though there are multiple reasons for migration, disasters are also one reason,” said Negi.

Negi and other top government officials admitted that there is no data available on the number of people migrating from hills in the wake of various calamities.

Natural disasters are not just restricted to floods only in the hills. Calamities like earthquakes, forest fires and landslides take heavy toll in the state on regular intervals. In the two devastating earthquakes in the recent past – Uttarkashi-1991 and Chamoli-1999, hundreds of people were killed. In Kedarnath floods, over 5,000 people lost their lives while thousands of houses and vital infrastructure were also destroyed/damaged.

Though the government has taken various steps to mitigate the suffering of the people due to disasters, environmentalists say they are not enough and call for banning hydel projects in the higher altitudes.

Renowned enviromentalist Chandi Prasad Bhatt said he had written to the Centre in 2010 warning against the adverse effects of the hydel projects including Rishiganga in the state. “Had my warning been taken seriously, such big devastations could have been avoided,” he said.

Sunderlal Bahuguna also kept issuing warnings on hydel projects saying these projects are adversely polluting Ganga river and triggering migration.

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