Uttarakhand: Landslides, subsidence

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Joshimath- Rishikesh road

As in 2023

Gaurav Talwar, January 15, 2023: The Times of India

DEHRADUN: As many as 309 "fully or partially road-blocking landslides" were identified along the 247-km road between Rishikesh and Joshimath - an average of 1.25 landslides per km - according to a study by a team of Indian and foreign scientists, which was introduced for discussion at European Geosciences Union on January 10.

Besides natural events like rain, road building and widening may have triggered the new landslides, which the report said "are often shallow and small but which nevertheless inflict fatalities, severe damage to infrastructure and traffic disruption". The landslides were mapped in October last year.

Most landslides on 247-km Joshimath road 'fresh': Study

A study that identified 309 landslides along the 247-km road between Rishikesh and Joshimath points out that "this road is strongly affected by landslides which has been previously described and attributed to the region's fragility of slopes, focused rainfall and frequent seismicity". It further stated that most landslides "seemed fresh".

The study by Jurgen Mey, Ravi Kumar Guntu, Alexander Plakias, Igo Silva de Almeida and Wolfgang Schwanghart was published in "Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences", which is a peer-reviewed journal.

The study, which mapped the landslides in October last year, used Google Earth to show that "21.4% of the recorded landslides with road blockages existed before", "17.8% of the landslides were most likely reactivated by excessive rainfall because they could not be identified as road-blocking before the rains" and "a maximum, 60.8%, were not identifiable in the Google Earth imagery”.

In their study report on the area, the authors also commented, "We conducted a systematic survey of landslides and derived a statistical model that aims at quantifying landslide susceptibility along the NH-7 at a high spatial resolution. Our analysis relied on a GPS-based survey of landslides while travelling from Rishikesh to Joshimath shortly after a period of anomalously high rainfall."

The study report also mentioned that road construction was soaring in the Himalayas. In the past five years, 11,000 km of roads were built in the Himalayan states, adding that "the fragility of the landscape as well as slope undercutting and poor construction practices make maintenance of these roads challenging."

The study also cited National Crime Records Bureau data stating "nearly 160 people lost their lives in Uttarakhand in landslide incidents in the last four years."

"The road was widened by removing vegetation and excavating soil and rocks, potentially creating unstable slopes," the report said, adding, "data indicates that 20-40% of the recorded landslides are reactivated slope failures which underscores that slopes are recurrently unstable during periods with intense rainfall.”

It further said that "slope failures along the road have led to fatalities in parts where roads were widened" and cautioned that "damages and fatalities may become even more frequent in the future”.

The expert report added that "reduction of traffic may disrupt the cycle of increasing hazard and exposure in the route and commissioning of the currently ongoing 125km-long broad-gauge railway between Rishikesh and Karnaprayag might be an important step towards this goal.”


Rishikesh, Nainital

January 27, 2023: The Times of India

DEHRADUN: The alarm bells that have been ringing since the crisis in Joshimath are reverberating in several other hill towns across Uttarakhand, with their residents pointing out that they, too, are at risk due to cracks in buildings and roads.

Since the beginning of January, when the crisis in Joshimath escalated — after an aquifer burst in the underconstruction tunnel of the 520 MW Tapovan-Vishnugad hydropower project, cracks in the town’s buildings widened and led to panic-stricken residents demanding action — the issue of crumbling buildings has echoed in several other places in the Himalayan state like Karnaprayag, Uttarkashi, Guptkashi, Rishikesh, Nainital and Mussoorie, to name a few.

In Karnaprayag, located around 80km from Joshimath, where work is ongoing for the Centre’s ambitious Rishikesh-Karnaprayag rail line and the Char Dham allweather road — both bigticket projects intended to improve connectivity to the Char Dham shrines of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath — locals fear a fate similar to Joshimath’s.

A TOI team visiting the area found several houses had developed large cracks and become uninhabitable, forcing over a dozen families to spend several nights in the municipal council’s ‘rain baseras.’

According to Karnaprayag tehsildar, Surendra Dev, CMP Bend, ITI Colony and Bahuguna Nagar are the worst-affected areas. Over two dozen houses in Bahuguna Nagar, situated on the Badrinath highway, have developed large cracks and the roofs of a few homes are hanging precariously. Locals claim that “rampant construction activity, hill-cutting work for the Char Dham road project and population pressure have complicated an already difficult situation” in this quaint town situated at the confluence of Alaknanda and Pindar rivers.

Gabbar Singh Rawat, 85, a retired army man who has been living in the town since 1975, said, “My house is on the verge of collapse. Columns supporting it have started to bend. The problem worsened after the rains last year. We fear the building may not survive another monsoon.”

In Rishikesh, cracks have developed in at least 85 houses in Atali village. Locals claim it was due to the ongoing railway tunnel work as part of the Rishikesh-Karnaprayag rail project. Villagers said cracks have appeared in almost all houses and agricultural fields. Tehri Garhwal is another area reporting cracks and land subsidence, especially in and around the tiny hamlet of Chamba. Fearing landslides, residents have been pressing for immediate action. A majority of affected houses are in the Chamba main market area, near a 440-metre-long tunnel, which is being constructed for the Char Dham road project.

Tehri Garhwal’s disaster management officer Brijesh Bhatt said, “Around half a dozen houses that are located near the construction site of the tunnel have reported cracks. The problem first came up last year.”

In Mussoorie’s Landour bazaar, which is more than a century old, a section of the road is “gradually sinking” and has developed cracks that continue to widen, according to residents. There are 12 shops in the affected area with residences above and below them and as many as 500 people currently residing there are at risk, locals say.

Similarly, cracks had appeared in the Lower Mall Road in Nainital in 2018 and a portion of the road had sunk into the Naini lake. Even though patch work on the stretch was carried out, cracks have resurfaced and a segment of the road has again started sinking. According to residents, the steadily increasing traffic load on Mall Road has led to this situation.

More than a dozen families in Jhalimath Basti in Agastyamuni block of Rudraprayag are on the verge of displacement after cracks appeared in their houses. Guptkashi town in Rudraprayag district, the gateway to Kedarnath, has also reported ‘sinking’ in a few areas.

At Almora, the issue of land subsidence has been reported near Vivekananda Parvatiya Agricultural Research Institute. Lakshmi Kant, director of the institute, said, “A building of the institute had to be demolished due to land subsidence on the adjacent road…. The land around here has been sinking for the last 15 years.”

Experts say that massive construction projects undertaken without enough planning, combined with rise in population, tourist load and vehicular pressure are creating a deadly cocktail that is hurting hill towns in Uttarakhand.

Veteran environmentalist Anil Joshi, a Padma Bhushan awardee, who is founder of Dehradun-based Himalayan Environment Studies and Conservation Organisation, said, “Owing to repeated negligence by the authorities concerned, the Joshimath issue does not come as a shock to me. The matter had been flagged in 1976 but no one took note of it. It is time that we focus on our hill towns as a priority and take immediate steps to prevent further deterioration.”

(With inputs from Kautilya Singh and Pankul Sharma in Dehradun, Gaurav Talwar in Karnaprayag, Sonali Mishra in Nainital, Abhyudaya Kotnala in Uttarkashi & Pramod Dalakoti in Almora)

Land subsidence

Places at risk: As in 2023 Jan

Bloomberg, January 17, 2023: The Times of India

A sinking Himalayan town is highlighting the dangers posed to the region and the fragile ecology of the mountain range disturbed by a proliferation of dams, roads and military sites near the border with China.

The risks, flagged for decades by environmentalists and activists, came to the fore recently after land subsidence — gradual sinking due to displacement of underground earth layers — led to cracks in hundreds of homes in the tiny town of Joshimath, located at an altitude of over 6,000 feet (1,830 meters) in the northern hill state of Uttarakhand.

The high seismic risk zone is dotted with several picturesque towns and villages that are gateways to hiking trails, Hindu pilgrimage sites and strategic outposts in India’s lingering border dispute with China. The region is already vulnerable to frequent extreme weather events and landslides. A massive cloudburst in 2013 left more than 5,000 dead in the state.

The risks, flagged for decades by environmentalists and activists, came to the fore recently after land subsidence — gradual sinking due to displacement of underground earth layers — led to cracks in hundreds of homes in the tiny town of Joshimath, located at an altitude of over 6,000 feet (1,830 meters) in the northern hill state of Uttarakhand.

The high seismic risk zone is dotted with several picturesque towns and villages that are gateways to hiking trails, Hindu pilgrimage sites and strategic outposts in India’s lingering border dispute with China. The region is already vulnerable to frequent extreme weather events and landslides. A massive cloudburst in 2013 left more than 5,000 dead in the state.

“The villages and townships in the northern part of Uttarakhand are located along the major active thrust zones within the Himalayas and are very sensitive because of the fragile ecosystem of the region,” said Rajeev Upadhyay, professor of geology at the Kumaun University in Nainital. “Many habitations, which are built on the debris of old landslides, are already under natural stress and man-made constructions are adding further stress to the region.”

Incidents of land sinking in the Joshimath area were reported as early as the 1970s. A rapid subsidence of a maximum of 5.4 centimeters was triggered in Joshimath town in the 12 days up to Jan. 8. Slow subsidence of a maximum of 9 centimeters (3.5 inches) was recorded in the seven months leading to November last year, according to a statement and satellite images released by the National Remote Sensing Centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation.

“If you do a lot of excessive mechanical activities in the region, the land will be prone to slide,” said Upadhyay. “The whole area is vulnerable to subsidence.”

Here are some places in Uttarakhand that could be at risk:

Joshimath: The site of the current disaster is a major military and administrative hub. Millions of devotees cross this garrison town each year to reach Badrinath, a holy town for Hindus. The state-run NTPC Ltd. is working on a hydroelectric power project nearby. India’s top court will hear a petition from a local religious leader next week seeking to halt construction of the power project blaming it for the damage.

NTPC, India’s biggest power producer, has denied its construction activities led to land subsidence.

Areas prone to landslides

As in 2023, March

Gaurav.Talwar, March 10, 2023: The Times of India

Dehradun : The two hill districts of Rudraprayag and Tehri in Uttarakhand have the “maximum exposure to landslide risk in the country”, according to the ‘Landslide Atlas’ report prepared by Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) of Isro.

Rudraprayag has 32 chronic landslide zones, with the maximum located on NH-107 that leads to the holy town, according to the District Emergency Operation Centre. Similarly, Tehri including Totaghati, which has been identified as a “very chronic landslide site”.

Rudraprayag and Tehri have been ranked first and second respectively among 147 districts from across the country, which are prone to landslides. Chamoli, which houses subsidence-hit Joshimath, is at 19th position.

District disaster management officer of Rudraprayag, NK Rajwar, said, “The Sirobagad and Narkota landslide zones are the most problematic as they remain active almost throughout the year. On the other hand, maximum landslide zones are activated during the monsoon season. ”

According to data from the State Emergency Operation Centre, between 2018 and 2021, Uttarakhand reported 253 landslides, which resulted in127 deaths.

Rajouri and Pulwama (J&K); Kozhikode, Thrissur, Palakkad, Malappuram (Kerala); and South Sikkim and East Sikkim (Sikkim) are the other high risk districts , according to the Landslide Susceptibility Zonation Map. In one of the major disasters, on June 29, 2022, at least 79 people were killed in a landslide in the Noney district of Manipur.

It further shows that “over 11,000 landslides were recorded in Uttarakhand in the last two decades”, and the routes with maximum landslide zones includes Rishikesh-Rudraprayag-Chamoli-Badrinath, Rudraprayag-Ukhimath-Kedarnath, Chamoli-Ukhimath, Rishikesh-Uttarkashi-Gangotri-Gaumukh and Pithoragarh-Khela-Malpa.

2023, Aug

Gaurav Talwar, August 20, 2023: The Times of India

5 worst landslide zones in Uttarakhand, July 9- August 14, 2023
From: Gaurav Talwar, August 20, 2023: The Times of India

This is proving to be one of the deadliest monsoons in Uttarakhand with more than 75 people killed in natural disasters since the rains started two months ago. Over 80% of them have died in landslides.

The Geological Survey of India says 72% of Uttarakhand – nearly 39,000 sq.km area – is landslideprone. Isro’s ‘Landslide Atlas of India’ also says Uttarakhand had the second highest number of landslides – 11,219 to Mizoram’s 12,385 – between 1988 and 2022.

When it comes to districts, Rudraprayag and Tehri in Uttarakhand’s Garhwal region are the most landslide-prone in India. Tehri alone has 96 of the 333 landslideprone ‘danger zones’ identified in the state.

Toll Was Never So High

Landslides on roads and in inhabited areas can be deadly, and more than 300 people have died in such incidents in Uttarakhand since 2015. This year, there have been 19 confirmed deaths in natural disasters since June 15 in Rudraprayag district alone. Another 15 people are missing since the August 4 landslide at Gaurikund near the Kedarnath trek route.

Scientists and local people are alarmed because there have been almost five times as many landslides as last year with more than a month of the monsoon remaining. Data from the State Emergency Operation Centre (SEOC) shows 1,123 landslides this year compared with 245 in 2022.

Human Hand In Disasters

Yashpal Sundriyal, professor at the HNB Garhwal University in Srinagar (Pauri Garhwal), says both natural and manmade factors have caused this increase: “The change in rain pattern, rise in extreme weather events like cloudburst, flash flood and torrential rain, and unscientific infrastructure development involving relentless road construction and tunnelling in the hills have led to this situation.”

Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority executive director Piyoosh Rautela told TOI: “Landslide denotes any down-slope movement of soil and rock under the direct influence of gravity. Being a hill state, Uttarakhand is vulnerable to natural disasters, including landslides. The problem increases with rain as continuous precipitation disturbs the natural stability of a slope.”
 A recent study by a group of Indian and foreign scientists identified 309 “fully or partially road-blocking landslides” along the 247km road stretch between Rishikesh and Joshimath, which translates into an average of 1.25 landslides per km.

The study, which was introduced for discussion at the European Geosciences Union, pointed out that, besides natural conditions like rain, road construction and widening under the ongoing Char Dham road project may have formed new landslide areas. 

Making Hills Safer

Experts say careful planning is a must in the hills as haphazard development is a recipe for disaster. “Himalayan states – be it Uttarakhand or Himachal – are built on slopes. Each area has different magnitudes of slope, curvature, rock lithology, rock strength, etc, so a geo-technical study to make risk maps and landslide susceptibility and landslide vulnerability maps could ensure safety in events of heavy rainfall and landslide in the Himalayan region,” says Kalachand Sain, director of Doon-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG).

Veteran activist and environmentalist Ravi Chopra, who headed the Supreme Court-appointed high-powered committee on the Char Dham all-weather road project, stresses on ‘mindful’ construction in the hills. “Himalayas are young mountains and still not very well-formed. So we need to be careful in how we undertake development, particularly infrastructure development. We must remember that forests are the backbone of the mountain environment… but Uttarakhand has lost the maximum amount of forest land in recent times. This has exposed the mountain slopes to weaknesses.”

Chopra says climate change could make the situation dire. “In a desire to boost tourism, we have rapidly built major highways without taking adequate geological and ecological care. As a result, our slopes are getting weaker. As rain intensity increases with climate change, we will probably see many more disasters of the type we have begun to witness now.”

With inputs from Shivani Azad




Rohit Mullick, Oct 23, 2023: The Times of India

Kullu : A tiny hamlet nestled at 10,800ft along a Chenab tributary in Himachal Pradesh’s scenic Lahaul-Spiti faces a survival battle of Himalayan proportions as it is threatened by cracks in houses and fissures on farms.

Most of Lindur’s 90 residents are not just spending sleepless nights, they are sleeping outside as their houses no longer seem safe. “It’s scary. We all are living in constant fear of being buried alive if our houses collapse,” said Hira Lal Rashpa, 78. Most of the village’s 12 houses are two-storied; some are higher.

Although Rashpa confessed to not having “seen or heard anything like this before”, Lindur’s concerns revived memories of Joshimath in neighbouring Uttarakhand, where subsidence earlier this year caused panic and prompted evacuations.

In Lindur, fissures have also opened up on its 200-odd bighas of agricultural land and pastures, threatening livelihoods. “The cracks were first noticed in May and became prominent afterwards. The way they seem to be spreading, I fear there won’t be any village left in two years,” said Rashpa.

Jahlama Nullah, the ferocious tributary, is swelling the tide of worries, with many blaming connected irrigation channels for the subsidence. It does not help that the area is in ahigh-risk seismic zone.

As for Lindur, irrigation has lost its meaning. “The cracks have left the fields uneven. It’s not possible to irrigate them using channels. We have demanded sprinklers,” said Prem Lal. The Jahlama slaloms through a dozen hamlets before merging with the Chenab downstream. It’s flooded every summer and monsoon due to glacial melt. Last year, Jahlama blocked the Chenab and briefly spawned an artificial dam, submerging fields and orchards.

Calls for a geological survey are ringing out loud. “If the study finds this village dangerous to live in, the government must provide us with alternative land to shift. For emergencies, the administration should build temporary shelters,” Rashpa said. He alleged that appeals for a survey to the local authorities in the last two months have gone unheard.
R Sridhar, an eminent geologist, backed the demand. A proper geological study would establish the real cause,” said Sreedhar.

Lahaul-Spiti deputy commissioner Rahul Kumar said the administration was planning to channelise the Jahlama. But some in Lindur questioned the plan.



Uttarakhand: Landslides,year-wise: 2007-11; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, Sep 6, 2011

See graphic, 'Uttarakhand: Landslides,year-wise: 2007-11'

2023, June- Aug

Gaurav Talwar, Sep 19, 2023: The Times of India

Dehradun : Nearly 100 people have been killed and over a dozen remain missing in natural disasters during the three months of the monsoon season in Uttarakhand. According to data provided by the State Emergency Operation Centre (SEOC), landslides are behind most of these deaths. 
As many as 48 people have died since June 15 in the Himalayan state in landslide-related incidents. Flash floods and cloudbursts have led to the death of 44 people, the SEOC data revealed. 
With over three months still left for this year to end, the number of landslide deaths is already the highest in the past eight years. Historically, landslides have always taken many lives — close to 300 people have been killed by crumbling mountains in Uttarakhand in the eight-year span between 2015 and 2023.

Over 1,100 landslides hit Uttarakhand this year

This year though has been especially bad. Over 1,100 landslide incidents occurred this year in Uttarakhand compared to 245 in 2022 and 354 in 2021. Thirty-nine people had perished in landslide incidents in 2022, 48 in 2021, and 25 each in 2020, 2019, and 2018, as per data from the disaster management department.

“This year, sudden and extreme rainfall led to increased falling of boulders, resulting in more casualties,” said NK Rajwar, district disaster management officer of Rudraprayag, the district housing the Kedar nath shrine. Rudraprayag has been the worst affected by monsoons, with 21 deaths and 13 people missing, landslides accounting for 90% of the casualties. Tehri, another district in Garhwal, also witnessed several landslide incidents resulting in the death of 10 people and three still missing.

Commenting on the situation, Doon-based social activist Anoop Nautiyal, said, “Most of the landslides and resultant deaths occurred in Garhwal, which has seen a lot of road cutting and widening work in the past couple of years. We need to pinpoint causes and find solutions so that livescan be saved.”

See also

Char Dham yatra

Dhari Devi (Char Dham)



Uttarakhand: environment, ecology

Uttarakhand: Forest fires

Uttarakhand: Landslides, subsidence

Uttarakhand: Natural disasters

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