On July 9 and 10, eight-foot waves of water crashed across Pandoh village, which lies on the banks of the Beas river in Himachal Pradesh. The furious torrent tore through a bridge and homes, carrying people and possessions along with it.
Pandoh’s 2,000-odd residents fled for their lives. Nearly a month later, they’re still struggling to pick up the pieces.
Kushminder Kaur, 72, said she’s never witnessed floods of this scale. “I came here after my wedding and have been living here for 50 years,” she said. “Never in my life have I seen such water and such destruction. Nothing could be saved. In just an hour or two, everything was ruined.”
The devastation after torrential rains in Himachal Pradesh this year left more than 100 dead. In Pandoh, flash floods took place after water was released from the nearby Pandoh dam on July 8 and 9, dramatically increasing the water levels in the Beas. Locals blame the Bhakra Beas Management Board for “suddenly” releasing the water.
“The employees had information given by the meteorological department. People should have been informed at the correct time. This was not done and the water was suddenly released,” said local journalist Balak Ram. “The warning was not given that there would be so much water it would enter people’s houses.”
But BBMB superintending engineer Ajay Pal Singh said workers had done their due diligence.
“People do not understand technicalities. No mismanagement occurred,” he said. “Pandoh is not a storage dam. We cannot keep water stored. Whatever water comes from upstream has to be released. Whatever water came went down. We had given full warning. Water cannot be stopped beyond a certain level.”
But couldn’t the water have been released continuously instead of at one go? Singh said, “The weather was unpredictable that day. The clouds burst in the upper regions. It isn’t that we knew four hours ahead that clouds would burst and water levels would rise. The water levels rose considerably within four hours. This was an unprecedented incident.”
Meanwhile, Gurudev Kumar Saini showed Newslaundry the remains of his shop, once a thriving business selling spare parts for heavy machinery.
“Everything drowned,” he said. “The shop had valuables worth Rs 25-30 lakh. Our lives have been set back by 20-25 years.”
With video inputs from Rohit Kumar and Gopal Thakur of Pandoh village.