By Bhim Singh Rawat*
Heavy and unusual rainfall struck, Chauthan Patti, on June 23, 2019. The region is comprised of 72 villages in Thailisain Tehsil of Pouri Garhwal, Uttrakhand. The remote mountain region is settled in and around buffer zone of Dudhatoli reserve forest. It also borders the Almora and Chamoli districts of Uttarakhand.
“इति जोरग बरख लागि छ, हम भैर-भीतर नि अय स्की, हमूल अपण जमन मै यैस अंधकोप नी देख, हमूल जाण याल छ, गाढ़-गेदरयुग गुगाट, जरूर कखि ढोल-फ़ोल करल” (It rained so heavily that we could not move from inside-out vice a versa, we had never seen such a heavy downpour in our lifetime, the streams were full and roaring, we had guessed, it would certainly cause damages”), said an elderly woman of Syunsal village, in Garhwali language.
The rain lasted for about two hours beginning around 3 pm. Two days after the deluge, which many villagers are now terming as cloud burst, the details of damages is coming out, though in piece meal.
No human casualty took place, however considerable damage to paddy crops and farmlands have taken place. As per locals several farmlands are destroyed in Mansari and Sungar, Than, Chamali villages. Five cattle are washed away from different villages. Portion of a house collapsed while several other developed cracks at separate locations due to incessant rain.
“There was deluge in streams (see video HERE) as a result our fields are filled with silt, sand and pebbles destroying the crops and turning them uncultivable for some time to come” stated Shyam Singh Belwal of Syunsal village. He also mentioned about similar damages in more villages. “Years ago, I saw such a heavy downpour”, added Belwal.
“Portion of a house fell in Chhparkhal village, two cattle in Gwalthi village and one in Than village and two in Mansari village got washed while crossing flooded streams”, reported Naveen Joshi, of Mansari village who is also Block Development Council (BDC), member.
He also said that several paddy fields were filled with debris in his own village. “The rain was heavy and unusual covering an area of about 10 km from Gantkhal to Bankura, the streams flooded like never before”, added Joshi. Roads were blocked at several locations affecting vehicular mobility of people.
Impact of cloud burst in Mansari village. Several fields are filled with silt, debris. Soil erosion and trees flattened as an impact of the incident. Images by Chandan Gusain. Impact of cImpact of cloud burst in Mansari village. Several fields are filled with silt, debris. Soil erosion and trees flattened as an impact of the incident. Images by Chandan Gusain.loud burst in Chauthan Patti on 23 June 2019. Impact of cloud burst in Mansari village. Several fields are filled with silt, debris. Soil erosion and trees flattened as an impact of the incident. Images by Chandan Gusain.
Impact of cloud burst in Mansari village. Several fields are filled with silt, debris. Soil erosion and trees flattened as an impact of the incident. Images by Chandan Gusain. Impact of cloud burst in Mansari village. Several fields are filled with silt, debris. Soil erosion and trees flattened as an impact of the incident. Images by Chandan Gusain.
As per villagers, there was sudden flash flood in Binnu stream causing panic in locals at Deghat as they were caught unaware of the event since there was almost no rain. Deghat falls in Almora district and is located some 15 km downstream from Bungidhar the centre point of Chauthan.
Binnu river rises from Dudhatoli forest along with East and West Nayaar rivers and is part of Ramganga West system which also share same forest as origin place but flows though Chamoli and Almora districts while Nayaar rivers winds through Pouri district.
Villagers Helpless, Administration Clueless
Chauthan Patti is seen as backward areas of Pouri district, but its rich in forest and water resources. Going through transition due to road projects and facing adversities (irregular rain, wild animals invading farmlands), native people are still practicing farming which is among main sources of subsistence. The outward migration rate is comparatively low.
“It’s paddy planting time, we cannot afford to miss the rain, hence quite busy with farming activities day and night” said Anand Bisht of Pipalkot village. He mentioned of cracks in houses of his village due to rain.
The Patti is situated some 150 km away from district headquarter bordering Chamoli and Almora. Even the Tehsil is itself about 50 km away. Due to its remoteness, Chauthan usually lacks government attention. The area is also out of media reach. In fact the local administration was totally unaware of the incident.
Villagers also say that the government and administration focus more on town areas in hills and cities in plains or along Char Dham Yatra routes while such remote areas are left to fend for themselves, especially at times when govt services are needed most.
Manmohan Singh Negi, the Tahsildar posted at Thailisain block had almost no information of the heavy rainfall. “I will ask the Patwari for submitting report on this”, he said.
Sandeep Kumar, the Patwari posted at Bungidhar thought it to be normal rainfall event. When details of damages and cattle death were shared, he somewhat agreed to look into it. As per him, the villagers need to have dead body of cattle. Only after post mortem report, administration can process application for compensation.
Shockingly, when Disaster Management Cell (DMC) at Pouri was contacted regarding rainfall data, it revealed that on 23 June 2019, there was ‘No Rainfall’ reported to them from the Chauthan Patti.
As per official process the Patwari was supposed to report of the incident to Tahsildar. In turn, the Tahsildar would inform DM Pouri. Since it was highly localised event with little impact at block level, there was no record of rainfall and other official record of the incident.
Obviously, given the climatic changes and irregular weather pattern, the local administration needs to be more alert and trained firstly to see the unusual rainfall events with open mind. In this case the Patwari was treating it as common incident. Hence no timely information was processed to DMC, Pouri which could not help but report a heavy rainfall event as ‘No Rain’ incident.
Moreover the only disaster relief shed built decades back at Devradi is crumbling down. This shows the level of administration preparedness to deal with natural or climatic disasters in the area.
Earlier on July 5, 2017 a similar incident had occurred in the region. The heavy rainfall and lightening caused a huge landslide between Bungidhar and Gwalthi village causing damages to houses, cowshed, farmland apart from death of a few cattle.
This incident also shows such localized heavy rainfall events are going unmonitored and unrecorded by weather monitoring agency at Dehradun. Highly reliable sources say that about 6 years back, there was talks of installing Doppler Radars in Chouthan area but that never happened. As a result an event of heavy rainfall is officially mentioned as no rainfall day. When raised the issue with DMC Pouri, he said that its bureaucratic work and no deadline could be assured for the same.
Can It Be termed as a ‘Cloud Burst’ incident?
With the onset of monsoon the incidents of cloud bursts have also started occurring in the hilly state of Uttarakhand. Last year there were 13 cloud burst incidents striking across the state.
Even this year, on June 1, 2019, before the Chauthan incident, two cloud burst incidents have been reported from Pachuwa Ban and Choukhatiya areas bordering Chamoli-Almora districts.
However, there are some people who refrain from using such terms and don’t find them unusual. “These are high rainfall events over a limited area, at best we can say them excess rainfall incidents but cloud burst is more destructive”, says Vijay Rawat, a reporter based in Gairsain. He has been writing on local environmental issues for over two decades. Nevertheless he accepts the frequency of such excess rainfall events is on the increase. Blaming deforestation due to ‘development’ works, he also feels that there is more damage now.
According to weather department constant rainfall of more the 60 mm on a particular area over a small period of time is termed as heavy rainfall. But for local and media persons these are cloud burst events, with huge damage potential.
Is Government Learning Any Lesson?
If it heavy rainfall or cloud burst, be it government sources, experienced persons or local villagers, all unanimously agree that these disasters are striking the state at increased frequency and causing huge losses.
The available information shows, more such heavy rainfall events are happening in middle part of state and in June, July months of south west monsoon. The account of Chauthan suggests state government is ill equipped to deal with such events.
Studying the ‘cloud burst’ incidents, installing rainfall measuring instruments in vulnerable areas, improving the disaster management system and structures are few essential steps to begin with. Will all concerned including IMD, state and central governments care to take up these steps to better deal with emerging threats of ‘cloud burst’ events?