18 November 2021
Landslides and the road network in Uttarakhand, India
The Indian Express is carrying a story today about landslides and the so-called Char Dham road project. The Char Dham project involves widening and upgrading of 900 km of road between four population centres, Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath, in Uttarakhand. I have blogged previously on this issue. The trigger for the Indian Express article is a set of comments made by the Union Road Transport and Highways Secretary, Giridhar Aramane, yesterday. These are the key quotes from the interview:
“So the allegation that highway construction is causing landslides is both spurious as well counter productive to the national causes”
“The area is generally prone to landslides, even where there is no road… geology of the area is so fragile that there is no need for any external provocations. Internal forces, plate movements itself causes enough landslides in that areas”
There are, of course, parts of this that are correct. The geology of the area is indeed fragile – this is an area of steep mountains in a fractured geology that is prone to seismicity and monsoon rainfall. Landslides are inevitable even without the action of humans.
But to assert that highway construction is not causing landslides is demonstrably false. There are numerous images online of landslides on the Char Dham highways, such as these:-
I could not argue that India is incorrect to upgrade its roads – indeed there are undoubtedly strategic and development imperatives to do so. But in the fragile conditions of this area many landslides are inevitable during road construction unless high quality road engineering is adopted. To deny that the highway construction is causing landslides flies in the face of the evidence.
Landslides cause environmental damage, they drive economic loss, they kill people, they make the road network unreliable and, if there were to be a major earthquake, they make the provision of rescue and recovery extremely difficult, as was so evident in Pakistan in 2005 and in China in 2008. It is a folly to build roads in this way and it is a folly to deny the evidence of the impacts of these techniques on the landscape.