Uttarakhand disaster: Army faces uphill task to rescue workers trapped under debris

At least 28 people have been confirmed dead so far and 200 are missing.

ByHridayesh Joshi
Uttarakhand disaster: Army faces uphill task to rescue workers trapped under debris
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The army took over the responsibility for rescue and relief operations in Chamoli, Uttarakhand, on Tuesday following massive flooding in the region. They started rescuing people stuck inside the damaged NTPC power plant in Tapovan. Helicopters have also been deployed.

Major General Rajiv Chibbar told Newslaundry, “This is an extremely difficult and challenging job. But we are taking the help of both mechanical and human resources.”

On Sunday, a section of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off and fell into the Alaknanda river in the Tapovan area, causing a big surge which burst through the Rishiganga dam, wrecking the hydropower project there as well as the Tapovan project downstream. Rescue workers have so far recovered 28 bodies while 200 people are still reportedly missing.

Monday was a difficult day for the rescue workers as they were unable to find anyone alive. The police issued a statement saying that 28 dead bodies had been recovered from different places. While there is speculation that more than 250 people have lost their lives in this disaster, Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat has said that 200 people are missing.

Ground zero

The disaster site at the Rishiganga 13.5 MW hydel project on the border of Lata valley is now nothing but rubble. Residents of the area say that many people were either swept away or are still under the debris. The bridge linking villages on the other side of the project was also swept away, cutting off access.

Santosh Panwar, a resident of the area who is taking part in the rescue efforts, said, “It is estimated that 40 to 50 people are under the rubble. Some people were swept away as well. Migrant labourers and project staff were both living here. We didn’t get the chance to help them escape. There were a few police personnel on duty and some of them are missing.”

Meanwhile, four km away, the 520 MW NTPC power project known as the Tapovan Vishnugad project being built on the Dhauliganga has also been damaged.

Rescue workers struggled to reach people stuck inside the two-km tunnel. Army personnel along with those from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, State Disaster Relief Force, and National Disaster Relief Force have been relentlessly working at the site but the tunnel is blocked with debris. It’s estimated that about 100 people are stuck inside.

An ITBP rescue worker said, “On Sunday, we safely rescued 12 workers and they are getting treatment. The rescue workers are now trying to make way inside of the tunnel. However, the tunnel at the Dhauliganga NTPC plant is filled with debris to such an extent that even an earth mover has been unable to clear it.”

Plight of migrant workers

There are a large number of migrant workers who have been hit by the calamity. They are from West Bengal, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, and Nepal. While union power minister RK Singh has said he will ensure the families of people who died get Rs 20 lakh as compensation, the locals claim that poor people are facing the brunt of the disaster.

CM Rawat, on his tour of Chamoli, had announced that the families of the deceased would be given Rs 4 lakh as compensation.

Communist Party of India Marxist Leninist leader Indresh Maikhuri, who visited the area hit by the disaster, alleged that the government was setting up such projects in sensitive areas after flouting environmental rules, disregarding people’s safety and their rights.

“The places where both these projects are situated is in the buffer zone of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve,” he said. “The local population isn’t allowed to even pick a leaf from here, but big private and public corporations flout the rules and the poor and migrants from who are here to earn a living have to bear the brunt of it.”

A version of this report was originally published on Newslaundry Hindi.

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