Skip to main content

Char Dham roads in Uttarakhand burying natural water ways as boulders rain down

By Bharat Dogra* 

On June 7, thirteen passengers were killed when a bus plying on Shainshar-Kullu road, in Sainj Valley of Himachal Pradesh, rolled down a hill. The high death toll was caused by at least two avoidable reasons which are often seen in hilly areas. Firstly, there was delay in relief and rescue. Secondly, a landslide had thrown boulders and stones on the road but there was delay in clearing the rubble, forcing vehicles to negotiate a narrow edge.
In February in Champawat district of Uttarakhand, 14 persons died when a pick-up vehicle fell into a gorge. In May there were several fatal accidents in the state, including those involving pilgrims and tourists.
These recent accidents provide only some indication of the exceptionally high toll of human lives in road accidents in the Himalayan region. In just one state Himachal Pradesh, over 11,000 people died in more than 29,000 accidents during the last decade or so, while over 50,000 were injured.
Injuries related to road accidents are known to be seriously under-estimated in India and are likely to be even higher in hilly area accidents due to the possibilities of landslides and vehicles rolling down hillsides and other factors. Several road accident injuries are known to lead to lifelong disabilities.
In Uttarakhand the average number of fatalities works out to a little less than 1000 in a year. From January 2017 to April 2022 about 4700 deaths were reported in about 7000 accidents.
In Jammu and Kashmir when 713 road accident deaths were reported in 2021, the Deccan Herald reported on December 28 – road accident deaths 3 times the number of militancy deaths. However this was actually a year of relatively lower number of road accident deaths here, with the number being closer to 1000 in 2018 and 2019. For the entire decade the number was again close to 10,000, with many more injuries being recorded here than in other states at around 87,000.
Hence it is clear that the accident rate is exceptionally high in these Himalayan states. In the case of village roads, often the construction and maintenance of roads is poorly budgeted while buses are overloaded. In 2019 in an accident in Banjar area of Kullu district (Himachal Pradesh), 44 passengers died and 34 were injured when the overloaded bus fell into a gorge.
On the other hand, the highways are adequately budgeted but these have also become prone to high accident rate. Ravinder Kumar, a cab-operator who negotiates these on daily basis in Himachal Pradesh, gives three reasons for this.
Firstly, he says, liquor is available in abundance very close to highways and this increases the chances of drivers being under the influence of alcohol, a high risk factor on roads anywhere but even more so in hilly areas.
Secondly, he says, so many trees have been felled in the course of widening highways that the roadsides have become highly destabilized and stones and rubble keep falling on highways as a result of this. 
Thirdly, the wider newly constructed highways being amenable to high speed now, the tendency to over-speed has increased with the result that at times there are more accidents on shiny new highways than on more difficult terrain. Young motorcyclists are particularly prone to this, he says.
As I was travelling on June 26 morning from Dharampur to Parwanoo on Shimla-Parwanoo highway, suddenly about 10 motor-cyclists emerged driving at breakneck speed. One of them crashed against a road-divider and narrowly escaped. I had thought that they would soon be stopped by traffic police, but they were not, at least for a very long time, and roaring and spreading terror on the busy highway some of them could be seen much later too.
Some bridges and riversides are being damaged by excessive mining, as blasting work for dam construction are harming roads
Road construction and widening practices have been found to be faulty at several places resulting in more destabilization of hillsides and more frequent raining of stones on hills. Essential stabilization works to stabilize such sites have been often neglected or poorly constructed/maintained to cut costs. In some cases, for instance, in the case of Char Dham roads in Uttarakhand, there have been reports of natural water sources being buried in the course of road construction leading to boulders raining down later.
Some bridges and riversides are being damaged by excessive mining, while blasting work taken up for dam construction has also harmed several roads and paths. Dams and other big construction projects demand that heavy material loads and machinery have to be transported to remote areas, thereby increasing the pressure on roads and bridges here which are not used to such high loads.
There is a big rush of tourists and pilgrims concentrated heavily in certain month or weeks. To maximize earnings and save time, there is a tendency to speed up the tour to a number of places with the result that drivers are strained and tired while driving long hours.
A frequent complaint of local people is that several drivers from plains are not adequately familiar with hill conditions and violate norms of safety, endangering others as well. This is particularly true of snowfall conditions.
Clearly there is compelling need for many-sided improvements in road safety, involving several departments and securing the participation and cooperation of people. Apart from reducing the number of accidents, improvement of early rescue and treatment can also result in saving many precious human lives.
---
*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now; recent books include ‘A Day in 2071’ and ‘Man over Machine’

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Why no information with Assam state agency about female rhino poaching for a year?

By Nava Thakuria   According to official claims, incidents of poaching related to rhinoceros in various forest reserves of Assam in northeast India have decreased drastically. Brutal laws against the poachers, strengthening of ground staff inside the protected forest areas and increasing public awareness in the fringe localities of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the State are the reasons cited for positively impacting the mission to save the one-horned rhinos. Officials records suggest, only two rhinos were poached in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve since 1 January 2021 till date. The last incident took place probably in the last week of December 2021, as a decomposed carcass of a fully-grown (around 30 years old) female rhino was recovered inside the world-famous forest reserve next month. As the precious horn was missing, for which the gigantic animal was apparently hunted down, it could not be a natural death. Ironically, however, it was not confirmed when

Lack of welfare schemes, BSF curbs force West Bengal farmers to migrate far away

Counteview Desk  In a representation to the National Human Rights Commission chairperson, a senior West Bengal based activist has complained that villagers living near the border with Bangladesh are forced to migrate to as far away as Mumbai and Kerala because of lack of government sensitivity towards their welfare in original villages. Giving specific instances, Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), said, if the Border Security Force (BSF) had not put any restriction on agricultural activities, and if villages had properly implemented welfare schemes, these people would never migrate to other States. Text: I want to attract your immediate attention to the inhumane condition of the migrated workers of Gobra village, Swarupnagar Block in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal to seek your urgent intervention to protect the rights of these people. Gobra is a village situated near the Indo-Bangladesh Border where the border fencing is about 500 meters i