Guest Column| Irreversible damage to Beas in Kullu due to ’23 flash floods - Hindustan Times
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Guest Column| Irreversible damage to Beas in Kullu due to ’23 flash floods

ByRamesh Pathania
Apr 13, 2024 09:14 AM IST

The entire river plain is unrecognisable, and the damage is particularly severe in areas such as Manali, Aloo Ground, Patli Kuhal, Raison, Devdham, Bhuntar, and Manikaran valley.

Bhagat, who goes by a single name, is one of the many JCB operators and has been working on Beas. He thinks it may take more than two months to dredge the river where maximum damage has been done. “We may be able to complete the work assigned to us before the coming monsoon,” says Bhagat.

Rivers Beas in Kullu may not look the same ever. The most picturesque and enchanting river suffered maximum damage in the floods last year. (HT File)
Rivers Beas in Kullu may not look the same ever. The most picturesque and enchanting river suffered maximum damage in the floods last year. (HT File)

Rivers Beas in Kullu may not look the same ever. The most picturesque and enchanting river suffered maximum damage in the floods last year.

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In July 2023, a catastrophic natural calamity struck Kullu and several other regions of Himachal Pradesh, causing devastating damage to the beautiful river. The incessant rainfall and flash floods changed the course of the river and caused massive destruction, completely washing away its banks and all the surrounding constructions. The estimated loss was over 12,000 crore, which left the entire state in a state of utter misery and despair.

To recover from this catastrophic event, the Himachal Pradesh government is undertaking a massive reconstruction and rebuilding efforts. Dredging work is being carried out extensively using excavators, dumpers, JCBs, and other mechanical equipment to restore the damaged river beds. The work has been assigned to successful vendors through regular tenders, with the primary objective of taking care of the riverbeds wherever the river has been damaged.

Rebuilding efforts

Major highways are being repaired and reconstructed, and an alternate road has been constructed to allow vehicular traffic near Raison, where a significant portion of the highway was torn apart by the gushing water. The entire river plain is unrecognisable, and the damage is particularly severe in areas such as Manali, Aloo Ground, Patli Kuhal, Raison, Devdham, Bhuntar, and Manikaran valley.

Kullu SDM Vikas Shukla is leading the healing process of the magnificent Beas and hoping that most of the work will be completed before the onset of the next monsoon. According to the report from the district mining office, more than 99,328 MT metric tonnes of debris has been cleared from the 10 sectors at Hathithan, the confluence of river Beas, and Parvati at Bhuntar. Similarly, 38,198 MT debris has been cleared from Raison near Shirar Resort.

In the Parvati valley in Manikaran, Choz Nallah’s three sectors’ , 25,600 MT debris had been cleared. This includes huge rocks, tree trunks, and other washed-away construction material. The damage caused by the floods is massive, with the river banks and course being severely impacted. The maximum damage was done at Devdham, Bhuntar, and Manikaran Valley, and Aut Bridge was destroyed. The state government is working to restore the damage.

Need to correct Beas flow

Beas is mentioned in many religious texts. Keeping aside the matter of history or mythological texts, there is a need to look at the present situation of the river.

People believe that rivers heal themselves after floods, landslides, and other disasters. But it’s not like that. When the damage is so great that the direction of the river’s flow changes, the water washes away the banks, and all the garbage and concrete accumulates in the river, then the river cannot heal itself.

Dr Shekhar Pathak, a famous environmentalist and professor of history who visited the Kullu valley to speak on the environment and climate change, was devastated by the condition of the Beas and the damage torrential rains and cloudbursts had caused to the valley.

To fix it, the flow of the river needs to be corrected with modern machines, and this is the right time as the chances of rain in the next three months will reduce. The shape of the river has changed. There river needs repair from Palchan to Pandoh, 102- km stretch. Rebuilding the banks of the river, bringing the river in the shape of the English letter V, stopping illegal construction around the river, and finalising the plans for beautification of the banks should be of paramount importance.

Illegal mining menace

There is a strong need to stop illegal mining and ban entry into the river without a permit. The government is working on a plan to give the responsibility of maintenance of tributaries, drains, and springs of Beas to the panchayat of adjacent villages, check dams will have to be built on small drains so that the excess rainwater can be stopped to some extent and that water can be used for conservation.

Later, it can be used for irrigation or other purposes. In the next few months, the Himachal government will have to focus on the maintenance of the Beas on a war footing. Beas should be declared the heritage river of the country. Trout fish are found in the river. From a tourism point of view, it is the most beautiful river in North India and it is practically impossible to imagine Kullu valley without it.

To take care of the Beas and other rivers of Himachal, the state government should constitute a committee that should include environmental experts, locals, intellectuals, and tourism experts. No work should be done without the advice of the local people and the guidance of the elders there. Our elders may not be so educated, but they have seen the rivers, streams, and mountains very closely and have spent their lives there. At that time, modern equipment and facilities were next to nothing.

Because monsoons will come every year we cannot make complete predictions about any disaster in advance.

After the floods, Nitin Gadkari, who heads the road transport and highways ministry, visited the flood-affected areas. He expressed great sadness after seeing the national highway damaged at many places and and promised to give an interim amount of 400 crore.

According to the figures given by the chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, the state has suffered a loss of 12,000 crore. Roads, houses and bridges built on the banks of Beas in Manali, Kalath, Patli Kuhal, Seubag, Bashing, Kullu, Bhuntar, Aut, and Thalaut areas were affected. A flood situation had arisen in Sainj and Mandi also due to sudden cloudbursts. There was the debris of trees, concrete of roads, iron, trucks, cars, buses, and bridges washed away in the Beas.

There is a need to remove all this with modern machines. In future, the government will have to make provisions for legal action and fines against the people who throw chemical waste, garbage, and filth in the river.

This work should be completed as soon as possible because there is not much time before the next cycle of rains.

The write is a freelance contributor based in Himachal. Views expressed are personal. rameshpathania@gmail.com

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