Dehradun: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream project — reconstruction of the Kedarnath shrine area which was ravaged by the 2013 flash floods that killed thousands — is scheduled for completion in the next one year. However, experts have warned that ongoing heavy construction may lead to more trouble if a 2013-like situation recurs.
The 2013 flash floods, caused by heavy rain, had triggered widespread destruction in Uttarakhand. According to experts, the Kedarnath shrine area is “highly fragile and unstable terrain”, and construction is being done on debris deposited by the 2013 floods.
Uttarakhand government officials and agencies engaged in reconstruction works in the shrine area said implementation of the master plan will be over by end of 2022. In the Kedarnath temple area — known as Kedarpuri — work has reached the halfway mark with some major projects yet to be completed. These include a multi-facility hospital and a sewage treatment plant (STP), they added.
The works are being monitored by the Prime Minister himself, state tourism secretary and nodal officer for Kedarnath reconstruction works Dilip Jawalkar told ThePrint.
“We have limited time, 6-7 months in a year, to work at Kedarpuri due to extreme weather conditions besides the terrain being too fragile and weak. This is also the time when Char Dham pilgrimage takes place. However, despite all constraints, master plan construction works at the shrine area will be over by the end of 2022 pilgrimage season,” said Jawalkar.
“Construction of rain shelter on temple road, a pilgrim’s ghat, medical facilities, convenience centers and sewage drainage system are going on,” he added.
Kedarnath reconstruction works took off in the true sense after the master plan was prepared and presented to the Prime Minister and then Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat in 2015, said Nikul Shah, director of Ahmedabad-based firm ‘INI Design Studio’, which prepared the master plan.
“First phase was over before Diwali while second phase works were inaugurated by the PM on his Kedarnath visit on 5 November,” he added.
INI Design Studio is also responsible for conceptualisation, selection and sub-terrain installation of Adi Shankaracharya’s statue behind the temple.
Experts oppose construction
However, experts who were part of investigations and reports presented to the Uttarakhand government after the 2013 disaster have categorically stated that ongoing construction works in Kedarpuri island may lead to more trouble if the situation re-emerges in future.
Even three-tier protection walls will not help as the riverbeds on both sides were shallow enough to help channelise the flood water towards Kedarpuri, they warned.
All the construction work is being done on debris deposited by the 2013 floods, said retired scientist and glaciologist from the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, D. P. Dobhal. “The temple area known as Kedarpuri is a V-shaped valley. It’s a highly fragile and unstable terrain. The constructions are being done on huge debris that was deposited after Chorabari Lake, located in the glacier zone, above the temple burst, leading to massive devastations,” he added.
“I cannot speak much on the government’s works but debris should have been allowed to settle down for a minimum 8-10 years before resorting to construction works,” he further said.
According to Dobhal, both Mandakini and Saraswati rivers surrounding the Kedarpuri had changed their courses after the 2013 disaster, and have shallow beds as a result. “Even protection walls will not help if a 2013-like situation reoccurs. Protection walls are suitable for rock felling zones, not the marshy and unstable terrain like Kedarnath,” he added.
“The rain disaster in 2013 also created several landslide zones in Kedarnath and adjoining areas in the valley,” said a senior scientist from Wadia Institute on condition of anonymity, adding that a report presented to the state government by them three months after the disaster “categorically forbids” construction works at Kedarpuri.
“A similar report was prepared by the Geological Survey of India as well. This is bound to create trouble in future. What was the compulsion to undertake heavy construction works at the pilgrimage site? Big constructions are not needed if pilgrims are not allowed to stay there for too long,” the senior scientist further said.
INI Design Studio director Nikul Shah Shah, however, claimed that the master plan was prepared with due care to keep the human load minimum at Kedarpuri.
“Vision of this master plan has been de-densification of the holy island…Idea is to accommodate more people within limited constructions more efficiently. In fact this is the reason why STP is being constructed outside the holy island. Unlike in the past, sewer effluents emanating from Kedarpuri will be channelised into a far-off STP through a network of pipelines,” he added.
The Wadia Institute report
Study reports on Kedarnath post the 2013 disaster have staunchly opposed construction in Kedarnath. A technical report on Kedarnath devastation presented by the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology to the Uttarakhand in September 2013 said, “The whole Kedarnath town has been damaged and has become fragile due to this flash flood owing to a large number of newly developed landslides all over the valley. Therefore it is strongly recommended that no construction be allowed in the vicinity of the temple in future.”
“The newly deposited glacio-fluvial material should not be disturbed. The area does not have enough space or machinery to remove and dump this huge debris. The state government may think of making it a rock park that will not only save the town from such future catastrophes, but also keep memories of this devastation for public awareness about natural calamities,” it added.
First and second phase works
The first phase of the Kedarnath reconstruction works included a 70-feet wide and 840-feet long concrete road connecting the temple straight to the starting point of the Kedarpuri suburb.
Kedarpuri is surrounded by Mandakini and Saraswati rivers, which was the main cause of the 2013 floods, resulting in almost 5,000 deaths. The construction of nearly a 850-feet long three-tier retaining wall along the Saraswati and a similar 350-feet protection cover along Mandakini river bank were other important features of the first phase works.
A circular arrival plaza constructed at the confluence of Saraswati and Mandakini and a temple plaza in front of the Kedarnath temple were two other big structures completed in the first phase.
The arrival plaza marks the entry point of Kedarpuri, from where the temple road originates, moving towards the temple plaza. A ghat for pilgrims at the confluence and some houses for tirth purohits (pilgrimage priests) were also completed in the first phase of the reconstruction.
The second phase works involve a big hospital with modern facilities including an operation theater, a sewage treatment plant, a new bridge and a pilgrims’ ghat at the confluence.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)