Dehradun: Residents in Uttarakhand’s Kuwari village are raising the alarm about a lake created in 2013 — during the devastating flashfloods and landslides — that they say has heightened the risk of earthfall in the landslide-prone area and could pose a risk to local residents.
The local authorities admit the lake issue has been there for sometime, but say “there is no immediate threat to lives”. Efforts, they say, are on to shift villagers from the landslide-prone place to safe areas, and an inspection has been ordered.
Kuwari village lies in Bageshwar district. Two villagers told ThePrint that the lake was likely formed because of a blockade in the path of the Shambhu river, a tributary of Pindar, Uttarakhand’s most turbulent river.
The Shambhu river flows through Kuwari to merge with Pindar nearly 7-8 kilometres away, before entering Chamoli.
Kuwari residents say the lake is about a kilometre long and 25-30 feet deep.
Kuwari residents claim the lake poses a risk for not just the 80-100 families living in the village and its adjoining areas — mainly those on the upper reaches of the lake — but also the thousands settled further downstream along the Pindar.
“The lake was created in 2013. A portion of the village was washed away then,” said Basanti Devi, a resident of Kuwari village and chairperson of the Bageshwar zila panchayat. “However, the water which was collected then was slowly flowing out.”
According to her, the rate of water flowing out of the lake has slowed, owing to deposits accumulated by the inflowing water.
“The increasing size of the lake has become a cause of concern for Kuwari residents, as it may cause risk of life,” she said. “The lake may cause soil erosion and result in the residential area sliding into the water. Over the years (since 2013), many local residents have already left the village and settled elsewhere, owing to this concern.”
The villagers’ fear is rooted in the memory of the bursting of the Chorabari lake, which is believed to be responsible for the damage caused in Kedarnath in 2013.
“If remedial measures are not taken with immediate effect, it may cause a big disaster. A lake burst will lead to massive flooding in the Pindar and threaten many living in downstream Chamoli,” Devi added.
Another villager, Ganga Singh Pangti, claimed the lake formation on the Shambhu “has been going on for sometime” owing to two landslides in 2014 and 2017, which created blocks in the river’s path.
“Even though water is flowing out from the lake, it’s very slow and may stop completely in the coming days, owing to deposits brought down by the river. If that happens, it can lead to a disaster in the villages downstream [from Pindar],” said Pangti.
Paritosh Verma, the subdivisional magistrate (SDM) for Kapkot — Kuwari is part of Kapkot tehsil — said “Kuwari village has been identified by the government for relocation”.
“All efforts are on to shift villagers to safe areas. Administration is also keeping track of the developments in the lake,” he added.
The Uttarakhand government has since the 2013 flashfloods, periodically spoken of relocating villages in disaster-prone areas.
Sources in the state government said CM Pushkar Singh Dhami is likely to be informed of the situation. However, Bageshwar district disaster management officer Shikha Suyal told ThePrint Saturday that she was unaware of the lake’s existence.
“I have no idea if there is any lake formation on any river in the region. However. I will speak to the officers concerned and provide the details,” Suyal said.
Speaking to ThePrint, environmentalists and domain experts said they weren’t aware of the lake in question, but added that “any lake formed on a Himalayan river may prove disastrous in coming days for the local residents (those living in its vicinity), as well as the habitations further downstream”.
‘CM to be informed’
A source in the state government said the administration came to know about the lake when a team of geologists and officials from the state drinking water supply department visited the area earlier this month, to explore the feasibility of a plan to transport Pindar water to other parched rainfed streams in the region.
The team then brought the matter to the knowledge of state Chief Secretary S.S. Sandhu by submitting a report on the matter, said a member of the team.
An official of the state disaster management department said Sandhu directed the report to them and raised queries as to the remedial steps being taken.
“Now the disaster management department is preparing a presentation with the help of the team that visited Kuwari village, to apprise the CM of the issue,” the official added.
Meanwhile, the Bageshwar district administration has decided to conduct an inspection of the lake site.
Kapkot tehsildar Pooja Sharma, who is a member of the inspection team, said it’s “difficult to say anything exactly on the status of the risk involved in the lake formed on Shambhu river”.
“A team of officials has been constituted by the SDM on the direction of DM. We will soon visit the site for its physical examination and gather all information,” he added.
‘Must ensure lake is inspected’
Noted environmentalist Kalyan Singh Rawat, a Padma Shri awardee and founder of the Maiti afforestation campaign, said the “development of a one-kilometre-long and 25-30-foot deep lake on Pindar’s tributary is indeed a cause of worry for the government and people of the state”.
Rawat noted that “it’s carrying a huge volume of water, which can cause havoc mainly in the villages of the neighbouring Chamoli district”.
“Pindar is known for its destructive floods. The state government must get to work immediately and conduct a technical survey of the blockade created on the Shambhu near Kuwari village,” he added.
D.P. Dobhal, retired senior scientist and glaciologist of Dehradun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, said the state government “must take immediate steps to deal with the situation as the lake, of the size and volume being talked about, will cut soil beneath the village located on higher reaches and can cause massive flood in the Pindar”.
“The government must ensure the lake is inspected and studied by experts and come up with remedial measures to check the damage it can cause,” he added.
The experts said since Pindar and Shambhu are glacier-fed rivers they are anyway full of water round the year. An additional lake burst may, in such case, cause a flood and result in massive damage to people living in Garhwal region (of which Chamoli is a part).
Rawat said there “is a need to find out how this lake can be unlocked”. “Villagers along downstream Pindar must also be alerted of the possible future risks of the lake formed on Shambhu,” he added.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)