PB Sashaankh & Pratik Kumar

Fact Finding Report on the Tapovan-Rishiganga Disaster at Chamoli, Uttarakhand

On February 7, 2021, the residents of Raini village in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand witnessed a calamity of epic proportions, which caused massive damage to life and property. The outburst broke through the Rishi Ganga dam causing severe harm to the nearby settlements and the local population. A fact finding team of HRLN visited the disaster site on 15.2.2020 and spoke to  family of the victims, local activists, villagers, the administration involved in relief work including the District Magistrate and the employees of the National Thermal Plant Corporation.

The state of Uttarakhand has a vast amount of rivers and natural rapids. This makes it an ideal place for the production of hydroelectricity. Exactly because of the abundance of these resources, multiple corporations have been exploiting these resources and the local population for incessant developmental projects.  The disaster that took place in Chamoli occurred due to a break in a glacier. This break occured at the Nanda Ghunti mountain located in the Nanda Devi National Park. At 5600m, a crack had formed at the side of the mountain. The crack was captured on 2nd February through satellite imaging, five days before the disaster took place. This break is what caused a massive block of rock and ice to fall onto the valley on 7th February. The block is estimated to be over two million cubic meters in size and it fell nearly two kilometres before hitting the valley floor. The block followed the path created by an avalanche in 2016 and then hit the Rishiganga power project.  The disaster also severely damaged another hydropower project located in Dhauliganga river, adjacent to Tapovan village. The flood carried with it tons of mud which trapped multiple workers in a tunnel inside the project site.

A total of 204 workers have been deemed missing, out of which more than 50 people have been confirmed dead. These numbers are only reflective of the registered employees and not wage workers, and it is estimated that far more people are missing, or are dead. According to the data collected by the fact finding team, the flood took twenty - thirty minutes to reach the site of the dam, which would have been sufficient time to save multiple lives, if there were proper early warning systems installed. On the day of the incident, no early warning activated at the site of the glacier and the dam. There were no proper escape routes constructed at the dam sites as a pre-emptive measure to mitigate the loss of human life caused by a potential disaster. The workers were also not equipped with proper gear, and were only given boots and helmets. Even after the disaster had occurred, proper and sufficient machinery was not deployed, with only one JCB trying to clear out the debris and mud in one of the spots where the workers were stuck. If proper machinery in sufficient quantities would have been deployed, multiple lives could have been saved.

Get more details in the report attached. 

[1] https://www.ceew.in/sites/default/files/CEEW_Climate_Change_A_Risk_Assessment.pdf

[2] Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change