Uttarakhand: ‘Cloud burst’ in Chauthan, disaster preparedness missing again

By Bhim Singh Rawat*

Excessive rainfall in the intervening night July 28-29 2021 has impacted several villages in Chauthan Patti under Thailisain tehsil of Pauri district. Fortunately there has been no casualties reported however village & public infrastructure and also the crops have suffered huge damages.

While heavy downpour lashed out the large parts of the district, the villagers of Dumdikot also reported of a ‘cloud burst’ incident causing significant destruction. The village is located at the trijunction of Pauri-Chamoli-Almora districts border.

“We could not sleep through the night as rainwater, debris entered in several homes and there was frightening flash flood spell around 2 pm in our local stream, Topya gadera”, said Shyam Singh Rawat, Pradhan, Dumdikot. 

The village is located some half a kilometre downhill on Pauri-Gairsain road. When Shyam Singh Rawat went up hill in the morning, he saw around 20 meter long road stretch was damaged due to landslide. The flash flood in stream had dumped huge boulders on large part of road, completely blocking it for vehicular movement. A foot bridge on same stream was also washed away.  

The entire course of Topya gadera has seen several landslip along its widened course after the incident. “I have been living here for past twenty years, but have never seen this scale of rain and destruction”, shares Dev Singh Ghaniyali a local who owns a grocery shop along the road close to the spot of incident.

Villagers said apart from the Topya gadera the Garhi, Khai streams had also flooded dangerously. “All small water channels, streams were in spate damaging farmlands, crops along their banks. Two culverts have been damaged totally cutting off the village from district,” told Bhim Singh Rawat, sarpanch Dumidkot. According to him, more than thirty farmers have suffered crop losses over 20 nali of farmland.

“Several homes have developed cracks which may collapse if such rain happens again, there are small & big landslips around the village. Our pathways have broken beyond recognition. One individual drinking water supply pipeline was also washed away”, shares sarpanch while describing the event.

“It is for a firm rock that saved my cowshed otherwise my cattle would have buried alive that night”, reported Prem Singh Chaundiyal of same village.

In addition to Dumdikot nearby Baisani, Maniyar, Pachtoda villages have seen damages to homes, cowsheds, crops and farmlands. According to local administration crop land of 3.282 ha (200 nali, 8 muthi) were impacted in five villages. The heavy rainfall in the area also damaged homes in Pathon and Ricksal villages while damages to crops, landslips have been reported from all over the region.

alli Dadoli another village on other side of same catchment faced significant damages. “There was loud thundering and lightening around midnight. Soon, our Ghat gadera was in spate washing away three old gharat structures. One foot bridge, two water springs close to stream which supplied potable water to us were also damaged”, said Govind Singh Negi, Pradhan, Malli Dadoli.

According to him the flash flood has widened the stream course three fold. Local crops over 150 nali land mostly along the gadera were damaged. Indeed about half a km stretch of Ghat stream which passes through to Malli Dadoli and flows close to Birudhuni the main market along Pauri-Gairsain road still bears the testimony of destruction.

Destruction Partly Man Made

The Birudhuni market area was also flooded with debris, sludge. The water deluge rushed through an old shop washing away part of its under storey. “The destruction is partly due to man-made reasons. Culverts must have sufficient space to allow flood water pass smoothly and needs to be cleaned before monsoon. The quality of construction is also substandard making them vulnerable to flood fury”, shared Padam Singh Kandpal, President, Birudhuni Vyapar Mandal.

In fact, there were several culverts blocked along 10km road from Bungidhar to Dumdikot stretch. As a result the water was running along roads raising its landslide vulnerability. The 3km long stretch of same road between Khoda and Birudhuni faced damages due to debris, boulders and landslide caused by the flash floods.

Govind Singh Negi laments the growing abuse of local streams. “Now enormous amount of solid waste is dumped in the streams which blocks and diverts the channel during floods thus adding into damages”. Similarly, Dev Singh feels a culvert on the stream near his shop could have prevented debris and sludge invading the village area.

Cloud Burst or Heavy Rainfall

The incident has again ignited debate on cloud burst vrs heavy rainfall. While villagers term the event a ‘cloud burst’ however the local administration label it as heavy rainfall incident. The riddle would remain unsolved forever as there is sheer absence of rainfall monitoring in the area by the meteorology department.

“There is no way giant boulders embedded affirm inside around Topya gadera roll downstream like wooden logs without extreme deluge”, comments Shyam Singh Rawat. Remembering the horrific night Govind Singh Negi says that none of villagers have witnessed this scale of rainfall in their lifetime.

The rain is measured at Thailisain tehsil located some 60 km away from the incident location which submits the daily rainfall data to disaster control cell at Pauri by 09:00 am every morning. According to disaster control cell there was mere 15 millimetres rains reported during 24 hours between July 27 and July 28, 2021.

On the contrary the India Metrological Centre (IMC), Dehradun the regional weather centre which publishes daily rainfall report by 02:00 pm, mentions 60 mm rainfall from Thailisain thesil for same duration which is far less than official definition of cloud burst of 100 mm in one hour over limited area.

Disaster Preparedness Missing

While short duration intense rainfall incidents locally termed as cloud bursts are sharply rising across Himalayan region over a decade, huge vacuum in monitoring and mitigation continue to exist.

In pre-monsoon month of May 2021, SANDRP has complied 24 such incidents[i] occurring across Uttarakhand alone. The Chauthan Patti has suffered similar incidents in past too, the latest being[ii] on June 23, 2019, when the entire government machinery was caught unaware.

Even in this case, the weather department, disaster control cell was clueless about the incident for hours. The local administration swung into action only after the issue raised through local and social media but continue to deny it a ‘cloud burst’ incident despite having no rainfall monitoring system in the area. The very fact goes against the affected villagers in securing just and timely compensation against the losses they have suffered.

In addition to lack of rainfall monitoring, there is no mechanism in place to alert the locals on extreme weather events in a timely manner to help them prepare well and minimize scale of destruction. The area MLA Dr. Dhan Singh Rawat, also holds the portfolio of Disaster Management and Rehabilitation but locals say there is only a tin shed structure built in the name of disaster management in the region years ago, that too is lying in dilapidated condition. 

Obliviously, the clouds have been thundering repeatedly loud enough but the government machinery is still in deep slumber when it comes to disaster monitoring and mitigation that too in a state which is bearing the burnt of natural and weather disasters frequently.

End Notes:

[i] https://sandrp.in/2021/06/03/uttarakhand-cloud-bursts-in-may-2021/

[ii] https://sandrp.in/2019/06/26/cloud-burst-in-chouthan-no-rain-says-disaster-control-room-pouri-garhwal/

*Courtesy: sandrp.in

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