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It was raining heavily at Simi village, Rudraprayag, and all eight members of Ankit Lal’s family had taken shelter in a one-room tin shed near the Mandakini river. “Whenever it rains, we move to this shed, for our house might collapse anytime,” said Ankit, whose house has developed cracks. The shed near his damaged house was set up by an NGO after the 2013 flooding of Kedarnath. Along the way to Kedarnath are several villages with houses whose walls are crumbling, on land that is constantly sinking and being eroded by the river Mandakini.
Near Ankit’s house, Darshan Lal’s is crumbling. “The government gave me Rs 7 lakh as compensation,” said Darshan, whose 15-member family lives in a tin shed a few metres from the house. “I took a loan to build a house in Haridwar. We move there only in the winter, when it is too cold in the shed.” The state disaster management department has identified 350 villages across all districts for “shifting to safer areas”. While surveys continue four years after the flood, not one village has been rehabilitated yet. “We have asked all district magistrates to give a list of one or two villages that need to be rehabilitated immediately,” disaster management secretary Amit Negi said.
At Agastyamuni, the footbridge that connected 62 gram sabhas across the Mandakini to the town has not been rebuilt four years on. Villagers use a makeshift bridge, but in the monsoon it is replaced with a cable car. “A five-year-old girl died in an accident from the cable car. In another accident my nephew lost a finger,” said Geeta Gorkha of Maharghat near Agastyamuni. On the way to Badrinath and Kedarnath are two landslide-prone areas, Sirobagar and Lambagar.
“If it rains for two days, landslides in Lambagar continue almost a week and the road to Badrinath gets blocked,” said Shiv Singh, who owns a shop at Lambagar. The Centre’s Rs 12,000-crore, all-weather Char Dham roads project leading to the shrines of Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri and Badrinath aims to address the problem of landslides and damaged roads. Last December, work began on the 889-km project for the Char Dham and Kailash Mansarovar yatras; so far, Rs 3,963 crore has been received for 371 km.
“Our completion target is 2020, but land acquisition and attaining forest clearance takes time. The deadline might not be met,” said Hari Om Sharma, PWD chief engineer (national highways). Work is also under way on the 327.11 km Char Dham rail link, a project worth Rs 43,292 crore, for connecting the Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath shrines. In 2012, 5.7 lakh people had visited the Kedarnath shrine; in 2014, the year after the flood, it dropped to an all-time low of 40,000. This yatra season, state tourism department data shows, 3.4 lakh people have visited so far.
“Business has improved this year,” said Dharmendra Gairola, a hotel owner in Sonprayag, “but once the monsoon rains begin, the footfall will reduce.” Some locals have started offering mules to pilgrims on the trek route. “How else do we make a living? The yatra is the only thing we can bank on,” said Gajendra Rana, who owns a mule at Gaurikund, 16 km from Kedarnath.