Recurring landslides in J&K take toll on fragile ecosystem

Recurring landslides in J&K take toll on fragile ecosystem
People watch as recent cloudburst trigger landslide in Srinagar's Faqir Gujri
People watch as recent cloudburst trigger landslide in Srinagar's Faqir GujriGK Photo

Srinagar: Recurring landslides in mountainous areas of Jammu and Kashmir are taking toll on fragile ecosystem with experts blaming mainly haphazard constructions for it.

Landslides are mainly caused due to complex geographical, geomorphic, and geological settings. The landslides are triggered by high precipitation and increasing anthropogenic activities like heavy traffic deforestation and road cutting.

Due to mountainous topography, J&K has many landslide prone areas particularly in Ramban, Udhampur, Pulwama, Poonch and Budgam. The 270-km Srinagar-Jammu National Highway frequently

gets closed due to landslides and caving in of road surface during rains and snowfall. Known as NH-44, the highway is considered to be the lifeline of Kashmir as it is the main surface link to the valley. Frequent closure of the highway has been taking a toll on people as it causes disruption in supply of essential items besides their movement.

Environmentalists say there are natural and man-made reasons responsible for frequent landslides on the highway. They said besides fragile geological, topographic and hydrological conditions, haphazard construction on the highway is among main reasons for landslides.

An earthmover clears a portion of Srinagar-Jammu National Highway after blocked by a landslide. [File]
An earthmover clears a portion of Srinagar-Jammu National Highway after blocked by a landslide. [File] ANI

Noted geoscientist Prof GM Bhat blamed haphazard construction activities for landslides and caving in of roads and highways. “Unplanned developmental activities and set norms of slope cutting and dumping of muck are responsible for frequent landslides on the highway,” Prof Bhat told Greater Kashmir.

Many stretches of the highway in Ramban-Udhampur have become highly landslide prone areas.

The highway is mostly based on sedimentary and metamorphic rock sequences. Before 1947, it was a mountain track on which people used to walk. Dogra rulers took in view the vulnerability of mountains to landslides and only allowed carts driven by horses to ply on carefully leveled surfaces. Subsequently, after 1947, the road was developed and expanded into a full-fledged motorable highway given its economic and strategic importance.

“Geomorphology of this stretch on the highway is most erosion prone due to presence of weathered rock mass on slopes, loose rock blocks, landslide and rock slide debris deposits. After rains, the loose material gets saturated triggering landslides,” said noted geoscientist Abdul Majeed Butt.

Butt, who has closely worked on various projects on the highway, said the Geomorphology of the area, underground and on the surface, is practically weak.

“The stability of the region geologically is very fragile. No technical investigation report of soil showing nature and substrata, location of ground water table sampling of disturbed and undisturbed soil samples is available. Sieve analysis and hydrometer analysis besides gradation, consistency limits besides natural bulk density and moisture content strength are foreign to present day road managers. Bearing capacity of soil, cone penetration test and soil electrical resistivity test are important to know before undertaking any repair,” Butt added.

Butt said no heavy machines including JCBs should be allowed to remove the debris instead manual means to be resorted to restrict damage to minimum. “Remember do not disturb loose or compact rock bodies in the area. On this analogy, I achieved cent percent success in Railway Tunnel drilling from Banihal to Gulabbagh, Qazigund in a record time during my posting. Class 4 rock availability in the area needs consolidation and rock concrete for stabilisation with anchor bolts of greater strength,” Butt added.

Ajaz Rasool, an environmentalist said, landslides are recurring in many parts of J&K after sporadic rainy spells of few days. “Landslides were confined to the areas where roads had been constructed by cutting hilly terrain without retaining structures for cut slopes and filled parts of the road. The soil overburden above experienced rain water seepage causes formation of the slip circle along which the saturated soil yielded. This triggers mud slides and consequent damages to habitation below.”

Elaborating, he said in other non-forested areas it was the disturbance of the top soil layer of otherwise stable natural hill slopes on account of the excavation done for construction works where heavy downpour resulted in mud slides.

“Even on NH 44 we witnessed failure of the cross drainage works across a road diversion due to storm water in the pipes laid below the road surface which got snapped resulting in free fall of water on downhill retained slopes. Subsequently the entire road collapsed causing disruption of traffic for a week or so. We certainly are facing the effects of climate change which either causes extreme temperatures and dry spells or torrential rains resulting in strong surface storm water flows. We have to keep this thing in mind while designing or implementing future construction works in the hilly terrains of the valley,” Ajaz added.

On July 8, the highway was closed after a service road leading to Panthiyal tunnel collapsed following landslides due to incessant rains. The highway was restored after three days. Pathiyal stretch is the most landslide prone area of highway. To bypass landslide-prone spots, two tunnels were to be built from Ramban and Banihal.

National Highway Authority of India commissioned T5-T3 twin tube tunnels in March this year to bypass the vulnerable stretch. But following incessant rains, the temporary approach road to the tunnel collapsed. T4 tunnel is under construction and is designed to bypass Panthiyal and join T5-T3 tunnels.

Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has maintained that the upcoming T-4 tunnel would permanently prevent frequent closure of the highway. The LG had blamed haphazard constructions on the highway during previous regimes.

“If I look at past reasons when the highway was constructed 10-12 years ago, a road was constructed in place of a tunnel. As a result, the condition of this highway stretch deteriorated due to landslides.” LG Sinha further stated that two tunnels have been constructed and one was in the last stage of completion near Panthiyal.

The 84-Km Mughal Road is confronted with closures by frequent landslides. It was opened for light vehicles in 2009 and closed due to landslides and heavy snowfall near Peer Ki Gali and Bafliaz. A tunnel was proposed to make the road all weather. However, the proposal was pending for several years. The Union Minister for road transport and highways Nitin Gadkari earlier this year announced that a tunnel would be built at Peer Ki Gali on Mughal Road. The Rs 5,000-crore project envisions making Mughal Road an all-weather road connecting Poonch and Rajouri districts in the Jammu region to Shopian in the Kashmir valley.

As per a study Landslide susceptibility assessment of Kashmir Himalaya, India by Sumira Nazir and Shakil Romshoo, landslides adversely affect socioeconomics of the region by causing huge loss of human life and infrastructure.

“It was observed that high susceptibility of the study area to landslides is mainly due to the complex geographical, geomorphic, and geological setting; high precipitation; and increasing anthropogenic activities like heavy traffic, deforestation, road cutting, highway expansion, and other infrastructure development,” it said.

“Though it may not be possible to altogether avoid the developmental activities in the high landslide susceptible zones, efforts should be made to analyze and mitigate the causes of landslides in the zones in order to reduce physical and socio-economic vulnerability of the people and infrastructure in vulnerable zones to landslide hazards,” it states.

“The roads under construction that pass through susceptible zones and other ongoing and pipeline infrastructure development projects in the zones should be thoroughly evaluated for their potential to enhance the landslide susceptibility. Additionally, massive afforestation, retaining structures, and internal slope reinforcement are recommended in the susceptible zones for minimising the landslide hazard risks,” the study recommended.

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