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Mamta Rawat: The unsung hero of Bankoli, Uttarakhand

Last updated on: January 22, 2014 18:48 IST

Mamta Rawat is one among the thousands who were rendered homeless during the June 2013 Uttarakhand floods. Six months on, however, not much work on relocation or rehabilitation has started. And money is really not the issue.

Anusha Subramanian narrates Mamta's story.

It has been over six months since the torrential rains wrecked the state of Uttarakhand, but locals living in the far-flung remote villages of Uttarkashi in the Garhwal Himalayas still see no respite from their troubles and are yet to get their lives back on track.

Mamta Rawat, 24, is one such young girl from a village called Bankoli, nestled in the upper reaches of Uttarkashi who lost her house to the June 2013 floods. 

Mamta, a trained mountaineer from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi was called on duty for a search and rescue mission undertaken by NIM. She promptly set out of her house on June 17 to rescue people.

While on the rescue mission, she carried an unconscious middle-aged woman pilgrim on her back -- like a mountaineer carries a rucksack -- and ran down the rocky terrain for over 3 km to help her get evacuated by a helicopter for further medical treatment.

She was on this mission even as her own house was washed away in the floods.

When asked, she refused help with regard to her house but sought aid for her village in the form of rope/cable bridges to cross over the rivers. All the old bridges had been washed away.

Sadly, today she still lives with her family of six members in a dungeon-like room and is the only earning member of her family.

A school dropout, all that Mamta knew was carrying load and walking up the hills. Therefore, she decided to do her mountaineering course so that as a mountain guide she could earn a living for herself and her family. After great struggle, she managed to gather Rs 5000 and do her basic mountaineering course.

Thereafter, she managed to do her advance Method of Instruction and Search and Rescue courses as well through sponsorships and some with her own earnings. Today, she works as a guest instructor with NIM and as a freelancer with INME, a Delhi-based adventure sport organisation that conducts training and adventure trips for children.

She barely earns about Rs 10,000-15,000 per month and sometimes even less depending on the assignments and the number of days they last. 

What’s tragic is that Mamta’s was the only house in her village that was washed away and therefore went unnoticed by large NGOs as well as the government.

“I wrote to the district authorities once in 2012 when my house was partially damaged due to the floods, but no action was taken. This year again I wrote to the district DM’s office. When I did not get any response, I followed up with the DM’s office. An enquiry was conducted and I was told that some officials will come and assess the situation and thereafter compensation will be given. But nobody has come so far and I have got no compensation till date,” Mamta laments.

Summiting4Hope, a social initiative started by few mountaineers, came across Mamta and her plight during relief operations in Uttarkashi in July, 2013. They decided to rebuild her house and give her and her family a permanent shelter.

S4H was started in August 2013 with the intention to rehabilitate the people of Uttarakhand who lost their property and livelihood during the June 2013 floods.

The destruction caused by the floods, all too evident from the scores of media images that flashed on news channels, has left a trail of broken homes -- literally.

S4H has concentrated on its work in the Uttarkashi district and over the last couple of months, it has organised and executed a climb for a cause to Mt Rudugaira (5819 mts) to boost adventure sports in the region and the lives of all those directly or indirectly affected by adventure tourism. S4H has so far raised funds through donations from corporates, and also individual donations.

For re-building Mamta’s home S4H is supported by NIM and its principal, Col Ajay Kothiyal, Krishan Kuriyal, a local architect who has created a blue print of the house. According to him, traditional Garhwali housing material like stone and wood is being used to bring down the cost.

Based on the government rates, the cost of building one home is estimated to be exactly Rs 15 lakh. ‘But since we would be using local materials and also local labour we have been able to bring down the cost to approximately Rs 8 lakh,” says Kuriyal. NIM has deployed its porters to undertake the work at the construction site.

It has been over six months since flash floods destroyed many of these villages and rendered many homeless.

Government statistics estimate that 464 villages have been affected across 4 blocks in Uttarkashi district alone. These include 14,353 affected families that amount to population of close to 60,000.

As per information from sources in Uttarkashi, the government is yet to start work on constructing houses for the homeless across Uttarakhand.

In the current rehabilitation stage, civil society and the corporate sector have proposed a slew of projects with an estimated financial commitment of Rs 225 crore, with more organisations expected to join the cause pumping in another Rs 260 crore.

Presently, organisations such as Tata Relief, Reliance Foundation and Mata Amritanandamai Ashram have committed to the extent of Rs 25 crore, 30 crore and Rs 50 crore respectively towards rehabilitating villages.

As per statistics from Uttarkahnd government’s revenue department presently, 74 organisations have expressed intent or are working towards recovery and rehabilitation in the state.

But, unfortunately, not much work on relocation or rehabilitation has started as they still await clarity and clearance of land from the state government.

If you wish to contribute, please email subanusha@gmail.com for details

Anusha Subramanian