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Land sinking: A new environmental challenge in J&K

Conduct EIA and strictly adhere to SOPs before executing developmental projects in eco-fragile areas
12:43 AM Apr 29, 2024 IST | ARIF SHAFI WANI
land sinking  a new environmental challenge in j k
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Massive land sinking at Parnote village in Jammu’s Ramban district has wreaked havoc in the picturesque mountainous region. So far 58 houses have been destroyed due to land subsidence in the last three days and more than 500 people have been shifted to safer places.

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Four transmission towers besides a power receiving station and major portion of road linking Gool with Ramban town have vanished in the land subsidence. The miseries of the inhabitants continue as there is no let up to land sinking. Imagine their pain when they see their houses and agricultural fields vanishing! It is like a nightmare.

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A team of geologists has been conducting surveys of the affected area, and have taken soil samples for tests. Land sinking from last several years is emerging as one of the major environmental challenges in J&K. In February last year, cracks in several houses in the hilly Nai Basti area of Thathri in Doda district of Jammu created panic among the residents. The situation was linked with Joshimath, a hilly town in north Indian state of Uttarakhand a few months ago where over 1000 houses cracked, crumbled, and caved in, rendering dozens of families homeless.

Last year, a panel of the National Green Tribunal, after conducting studies had recommended banning civil construction in the land subsidence-hit area in Doda district. The NGT’s directive was based on a report of a nine-member panel headed by Chief Secretary which gave a slew of recommendations to prevent land subsidence. Last year, Duksar village in Ramban district also witnessed land subsidence causing extensive damage to houses.

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Many areas in J&K including in Budgam district in Kashmir are prone to land sinking. Experts mince no words to blame increasing human activities and haphazard constructions for triggering soil erosion and land sinking. We have been witnessing massive constructional activities including road expansions and construction of tunnels in eco-fragile zones in various areas of J&K. If these activities are conducted without Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), these are bound to disturb eco-system!
Doda and Ramban districts are among the most eco-fragile areas in J&K due to unique geoclimatic conditions. The twin districts are prone to earthquakes, landslides and land sinking. Chenab Valley housing huge dams on Chenab including Dul Hasti in Kishtwar, Baglihar in Ramban, is also prone to natural disasters. The Srinagar-Jammu National Highway frequently gets closed due to landslides, especially in Ramban district. Experts said that the landslides are triggered mainly due to construction works and use of heavy machines.

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Experts have been shouting that Himalayas are one of the most fragile ecosystems and need adequate safeguards against the onslaught to protect their fragility. Notwithstanding the calls, development of buildings and settlements on unconsolidated materials, moraines, and narrow valleys in the tectonically active zones is going on unabated.

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The vulnerability of the geologically young unstable and fragile rocks of in Doda and Ramban have increased many times in the last several years mainly due to various unscientific developmental activities.

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Deforestation, unscientific road construction and terracing, and encroachment on steep hill slopes have increased intensity of the landslides. Experts have been calling for studies of geological joints along Srinagar-Jammu National Highway and measures like rock bolting and shotcreting to prevent percolating waters along fissures to trigger landslides.

We have to understand that due to its geographical terrain, J&K is vulnerable to natural disasters, especially earthquake, floods, and soil erosion. Most parts of J&K fall under the high seismic Zones IV and V making J&K highly vulnerable to earthquakes and subsequent landslides and floods.

Though Government of India has made it mandatory to strictly implement the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) comprising mandatory disaster management plans, risk assessment and eco-fragility studies in development projects especially construction of highways, roads and tunnels within 100 km of the International Border (IB) or the Line of Control (LoC).

The SOPs have been formulated in the aftermath of Joshimath crisis in Uttarakhand where thousands of people were rendered homeless due to cracks in their houses following caving in of the foundations.

The project proponents have been asked to prepare landslide management plans and take all remedial, precautionary measures before, during, and after construction. The SOPs mandate that all environmental safeguards must be implemented under the supervision of subject experts before undertaking construction of roads and tunnels. It states that in case of cutting or embankment, measures should be taken to control soil erosion from the embankment and prevent landslides, and rockfall.

SOPs state that if the proposed route involves tunnelling and or horizontal directional drilling, a detailed study on tunnelling and locations of tunnelling with geological structural fraction and its possible impact on the existing structures in its vicinity, flora, fauna, terrain, should be carried out.

This will ensure that there is no damage to life, property and environment in its vicinity.
It also mandates carrying out a comprehensive assessment of the water catchment, hydrology, and drainage pattern within 10 km of the alignment.

“The natural course of rivers or creeks should not be diverted. All the major and minor bridges and culverts should not affect the drainage systems. Flood plains of the rivers and drainage systems are not to be disturbed. Rainwater harvesting structures are to be constructed on either side of the road,” the ministry states.

“In case the road passes through a floodplain of a river, detailed assessment of micro drainage, flood passages and flood periodicity should be carried out and a management plan prepared and implemented.

We need to learn lessons from previous natural and man-made disasters. It is high time to conduct EIA and strictly adhere to SOPs before executing any developmental project in J&K. We are duty bound to safeguard our eco-fragile environment as our existence depends on it!

Author is Executive Editor,

Greater Kashmir

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