Featured image: PTI photo of the site of the landslide at Idukki in Kerala.
New Delhi: Not just the recent landslides in Kerala’s Idukki that killed nearly 70 people and destroyed hundreds of households belonging to tea and coffee plantation workers, India has always grappled with the long lasting effects of landslides, a detailed report by IndiaSpend has found.
The report cites figures from the National Crime Records Bureau’s 2019 ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India’ report, which notes that the Himalayas and Western Ghats are particularly vulnerable, making up about 65% of the landslides that led to the deaths of 264 people.
In addition to deaths and the emotional toll among survivors whose homes and possessions are lost in what is most often an unforeseen landslide, these have caused nearly Rs 200 crore of financial losses, according to a study by the National Institute of Disaster Management, that the report cites.
The report finds that in many cases, the after-effects of earthquakes or heavy rainfall which are believed to be the natural causes to trigger landslides, are exacerbated by construction work, quarrying and hypropower projects. These “damage hilly slopes and impact natural drainage by removing soil and vegetation, loosening soil and gravel and making the hills more susceptible to landslides,” the report says.
In the time between 2004 and 2016, India became one of the countries worst affected by landslides caused by human activity, contributing to 18% of global casualties caused by such landslides. Wanton loosening of soil has caused 12.6% of the land in the country to be prone to landslides. IndiaSpend quoted a Sheffield University study which found:
“India accounted for 28% of construction-triggered landslide events, followed by China (9%), and Pakistan (6%). On the other hand, of the total landslides triggered by rainfall, 16% were reported from India. Of these, 77% occurred during the monsoon. India also accounted for maximum landslides triggered by mining, at 12%, followed by Indonesia (11.7%), and China (10%).”
Plus, land which is naturally prone to excessive rainfall, like Kerala, suffers from the added vulnerability of lying in hazardous seismic zone, like Uttarakhand and the northeast.
Compensation given to the sufferers is often grossly inadequate, as was the case for the 2012 landslide that took place as a direct result of water leaking from the Chamera III hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh’s Chamba.
Regulations that are meant to foresee these eventualities are also glib, finds a National Landslide Risk Management Strategy published by the NIDM in September 2019. The particular dangers of hill towns are overlooked in laws that govern building construction and town planning.
Mapping with the intention of creating early warning systems can minimise loss of human life, and if followed, can also be incorporated into planning.
The Geological Survey of India (GSI) has done a national landslide susceptibility mapping at 1:50,000 scale for 85% of the entire 420,000 square km landslide-prone area in the country, notes the IndiaSpend report. Efforts are on to further increase the area covered by these maps and at once, localise them for greater accuracy.
The report cites the example of Manipur capital Aizawl, which is in an earthquake prone zone and has a landslide action plan which aims to regulate construction.
Kerala, too, has been focusing on adherence to a reducing damage to vulnerable slopes.
In addition, early warning systems that exist locally could be adopted across landslide-prone areas. Such a system led to quick evacuation of nearly 1,000 people from the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu in August.