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Beware of the hills.

By
Dr. Nitish Priyadarshi
Geologist.
Malin, the village in Pune district that was flattened by a landslide few days back
claiming more than 1! lives, has brought the focus back on the management "or
mismanagement " of the vulnerable hills of #ndia es$ecially %estern Ghats, &imalayas
and North 'astern states.
(he torrential rain on )uly ! near Pune $erha$s would not have brought down a side of
the hill had it not been weakened by *uarrying, leveling and deforestation activities
banned in the old weathered hills and ecologically sensitive areas.
+ast year it was ,ttrakhand this year it is Malin and Ne$al. - massive landslide in Ne$al
triggered by continuous monsoon rains, caused 1! deaths, dis$laced .,!!! families and
destroyed do/ens of houses. (he landslide has also blocked the 0unkoshi 1iver and
forming a lake which is threatening to cause downstream flash floods.
&eavy rainfall in )une last year wreaked havoc across ,ttarakhand, causing rivers and
glacial lakes to overflow and triggering massive landslides " killing almost 2,!!! $eo$le.
3onstruction of hydroelectric dams, deforestation and the s$read of unregulated buildings
along riverbanks magnify the im$act of the monsoons.
Develo$ment works carried out in $ursuit of greater economic growth " such as the
construction of dams and deforestation " are $utting $eo$le and the environment at
greater risk when disasters strike.
#ndia is one of the most disaster4$rone countries in the world, and many of its 1.5 billion
$eo$le live in areas vulnerable to natural ha/ards such as floods, landslides, cyclones,
droughts and earth*uakes.
+andslides are a natural ha/ard that affect at least 1. $ercent of the land area of our
country, covering an area of more than !.67 million s*. km. landslides of different ty$es
occur fre*uently in the geo4dynamically active domains in the &imalayan and North4
'astern $arts of the country as well as relatively stable domain in the %estern Ghats and
Nilgiri hills in the southern $art of the country. Besides, s$oradic occurrences of
landslides have been re$orted in the 'astern Ghats, 1anchi $lateau, and 8indhyan
$lateau, as well. #n all 55 states and $arts of the ,nion (erritory of Pudducherry and
-ndaman and Nicobar #slands of our country are affected by this ha/ard, mostly during
monsoons.
+andslides 9onation Mo$$ing is a modern method to identify landslides $rone areas and
has been in use in #ndia since 17:!s.(he ma;or $arameters that call for evaluation are as
follows<
1. 0lo$e4Magnitude, length and Direction
5. 0oil thickness
. 1elative relief
6. +and use
.. Drainage4 $attern and density
2. +andslide affected $o$ulation
Causes of Landslides
+andslides can be caused by
1. Poor ground conditions
5. Geomor$hic $henomena.
. Natural $hysical forces
6. =uite often due to heavy s$ells of rainfall cou$led with im$eded drainage.
A Checklist of Causes of Landslides Ground Causes
1. %eak, sensitivity, or weathered materials
5. -dverse ground structure >;oints, fissures etc.?
. Physical $ro$erty variation >$ermeability, $lasticity etc?
(he &imalayan mountain ranges and hilly tracts of the North4'astern region are highly
susce$tible to slo$e instability due to the immature and rugged to$ogra$hy, fragile rock
conditions, high seismicity resulting from $ro@imity to the $late margins and high
rainfall. '@tensive anthro$ogenic interference, as $art of develo$mental activities, is
another significant factor that increases this ha/ard manifold. -s a result, the landsca$e in
the &imalayan and North4'astern regions is highly susce$tible to reoccurrence of
landslides.
0imilarly, the %estern Ghats overlooking the Aonkan coast, though located in a relatively
stable domain, e@$erience the fury of this natural ha/ard due to stee$ hill slo$es,
overburden and high intensity rainfall. (he Nilgiri hills located at the convergence /one
of the 'astern Ghats and the %estern Ghats bear the innumerable scars of landslides due
to their location in a /one of high intensity and $rotracted rainfall where overburden is
sensitive to over4saturation.
8ast areas of western 0ikkim, Aumaon, Garhwal, &imachal Pradesh, Aashmir, and
several other hilly regions have been denuded of $rotective vegetal cover, which has been
reduced to less than ! $ercent, which is less than half of what would be considered
desirable. -s the $ressure of $o$ulation grew ra$idly, more and more human settlements,
roads, dams, tunnels, water reservoirs, towers and other $ublic utilities came u$ in
vulnerable areas. (he road network in the &imalayan region is more than .!,!!! km in
length. - large number of dams have been built in the &imalayan region. =uarrying and
mining, for e@am$le, in the Doon valley, )hiroli >-lmora? and 3handhak >Pitthoragarh?
have inflicted heavy damages to the slo$es and the associated environment.
-ccording to the information obtained under 1(#, #n Mumbai city over 55,6: hutment
in 5B hilly areas across 5. -ssembly constituencies in the city, including %estern and
'astern suburbs, are dangerous and the $eo$le living there need to be shifted as soon as
$ossible. #n the main city, 67 s$ots are dangerous in which total hutments are 7:2, while
in Mumbai 0uburb 5B: s$ots are most dangerous.
-n overall evaluation of the $attern and nature of landslide occurrences in the Aerala $art
of %estern Ghats and its corres$onding eastern flank falling within (amil Nadu reveals
the following main features<
1. -lmost all mass movements occur during monsoons >0% and N' monsoon? in
the western flank of %estern Ghats and during occasional cyclonic events in the
eastern flank indicating that main triggering mechanism is the over4 saturation of
overburden caused by heavy rains.
5. (here seems to be a relation between intensity of rainfall and slo$e failures.
. Ma;ority of the catastro$hic mass movements is confined to the overburden
without affecting the underlying bedrock.
6. #m$ro$er land use $ractices such as heavy tilling, agricultural $ractices and
settlement $atterns have contributed to cree$ and withdrawal of toe su$$ort in
many cases.
.. - common factor noticed in most of these vulnerable slo$es deforestation in the
recent $ast, cultivation of seasonal cro$s and increase in settlements.
2. #n some areas develo$mental activities like construction of buildings, road
cutting, embankments, cut and fill structures causes modification of natural
slo$es, blocking of surface drainage, loading of critical slo$es and withdrawal to
toe su$$ort $romoting vulnerability of critical slo$es.
Cre*uency of landslides is indeed increasing. (he main reasons for this are $rimarily
un$lanned develo$ment in landslide $rone areas which can change the geomor$hology of
that area. Because of accelerated deforestation, ram$ant urbani/ation, high fre*uency of
earth*uakes, fragile geological structures, stee$ to$ogra$hy and intense rainfall in the
mountainous regions of the 0outh -sia, the number of fatal landslides, casualties and
economic loss is increasing year by year. #ncreasing e@treme events due to climate
change are also res$onsible for this $henomenon. 1ainfall is becoming e@treme in #ndia,
either heavy or scanty. #f there is a lot of rainfall in a short s$an of time, then the soil is
not able to absorb the moisture, which makes it vulnerable to erosion and slo$e
instability, eventually leading to landslides.
(he &imalayan and North4'astern regions are $otential sites where landslides dams have
formed at many $laces in the $ast and the $otential of such occurrences in the future is
high.
Reference:
National disaster management guidelines, )une 5!!7. National disaster management
authority, Government of #ndia.
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