The Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, which connects the Kashmir valley to the outside world, is known for its dangerous conditions and is considered one of the most dangerous roads in South Asia.
This highway is a crucial link between Kashmir and the rest of the world, but it is closed for almost 40 days a year due to adverse weather conditions. Unfortunately, landslides on this route, which are predominantly caused by human activities, have resulted in numerous deaths over the years.
Unscientific felling of trees and the use of heavy machinery to widen the Jammu-Srinagar highway in the Pir-Panjal range has become a frequent activity, causing instability and landslides.
Development activities carried out in such an unscientific manner can be disastrous and fatal, altering the down-slope pressure and diminishing the strength of the hills. Such activities contradict the complex geographical and ecological aspects that form the basis of this region. Human-made activities, uncontrolled use of resources, and natural forces combine to increase the vulnerability of the highway.
Understanding the factors behind Landslides
The Jammu-Srinagar National Highway is situated in a region that is tectonically active and geologically complex. The Himalayas are one of the youngest and most active mountain ranges in the world, and their formation has resulted in a complex geological structure that makes the region particularly prone to landslides.
Assistant Professor Yudhvir Singh of the Geology Department at the University of Jammu speaking to Groundreport.in, said “landslide problems along national highways and surrounding areas have increased manifold in recent times.”
He notes that the increasing frequency of these failures has many contributors, and that the failures along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway are not only caused by geological factors.
Singh emphasizes that “landslides often occur as a combination of factors such as unplanned development, the intensity of precipitation, and geological factors. Additionally, each landslide has a different initiation mechanism that needs to be understood.”
His research has shown that factors such as fragile topography, water-sensitive lithology, active nature of various structural features, structural set-up, and sedimentological attributes often play a critical role in the initiation mechanism of landslides in the area.
Furthermore, Singh stresses that “the role of anthropogenic activities has increased tremendously in these activities. It’s crucial to consider the impact of human activities on the environment and understand how they contribute to landslides on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway and other areas.”
As landslides continue to pose a serious threat to travellers on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, it’s essential to understand the complex factors involved and work towards reducing the risk of such incidents in the future.
Singh has highlighted the impact of human activities on the frequent landslides along the Jammu-Srinagar national highway.
Speaking to Groundreport.in, he said “the construction of infrastructure on steep slopes, without taking into account the gradient, is one of the major contributors to landslides.”
He further explained that “the removal of vegetation cover and exposing the surface cover to runoff, as well as the lack of proper drainage systems, are some of the other common activities that contribute to the failure mechanism.“
High-risk Jammu-Srinagar highway accidents
The Jammu-Srinagar national highway has been identified as a high-risk route for travellers, according to the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
The statistics released by the Ministry indicate that in the last year there were 648 traffic accidents on the highway, with a balance of 93 deaths.
The frequency and severity of accidents on the highway has been a concern for authorities, as the region’s complex geological structure and active tectonic environment contribute to risks. In addition, unplanned and unscientific development in the area, including road widening and removal of vegetation cover, has increased the region’s vulnerability to landslides and other natural disasters.
Efforts are underway to mitigate these risks, including building retaining walls and planting trees along the road to stabilize the soil. However, much remains to be done to ensure the safety of travellers on this critical route.
Kuldeep Singh, Choudhary Power Projects Private Limited CPPL manager speaking to Groundreport.in said “the cutting of mountains to widen the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway from two to four lanes, combined with the subsidence of the area around the highway, has contributed to the increased risk of landslides in the region.”
The vibrations caused by the heavy machinery used to widen the road have also played an important role in increasing the instability of the slopes. These activities contradict the ecological and geographic complexities that underpin the existence of this area and have made the highway more vulnerable to the forces of nature.
The Jammu-Srinagar National Highway is also vulnerable to landslides due to the environmental factors that characterize the region. The highway passes through several areas that are prone to high rainfall, particularly during the monsoon season, which can cause the soil to become saturated and unstable.
Despite numerous efforts by successive administrations to improve connectivity between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the world, the environmental impact of these developments has often been overlooked.
The consequences of such abandonment have been devastating for the regions affected by these projects. The widening and four lanes of the Srinagar-Jammu national highway, for example, have had a severe impact on the local ecology.
One of the main factors is the complex geological structure of the region. The highway passes through a zone of active tectonic activity, which has resulted in the formation of unstable geological formations such as shale, sandstone, and siltstone. These formations are prone to erosion and landslides, especially during heavy rains.
Another significant factor is the unplanned and unscientific development in the area.
In recent years, the widening of the highway, the construction of tunnels and other infrastructure, and the removal of vegetation cover have destabilized the soil and increased the region’s vulnerability to landslides and other natural disasters.
In addition, cutting the mountains from 2 to 4 tracks and submerging the road area has also contributed to the problem. This activity has weakened the structure of the mountains and increased the chances of landslides.
Climate Change link
A study published in the journal Geomorphology also found that climate change may be exacerbating landslide hazards in the Himalayan region. The study noted that increasing temperatures can lead to permafrost melting and thawing, which can destabilize slopes and increase the likelihood of landslides.
Furthermore, the Jammu-Srinagar national highway runs through a geologically unstable region, with complex geological formations that are prone to landslides. However, the changing climate is adding to the instability of the region, making landslides more frequent and severe.
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