In February, at least 40 houses and other structures were damaged due to landslides in several districts of Jammu and Kashmir. This set the alarm bells ringing and triggered panic among the inhabitants. Landslides were reported from Doda, Ramban, Ganderbal and Kulgam districts. No loss of life has been reported.

On February 3, a Joshimath-like land subsidence struck settlements on the banks of river Chenab, in Thathri tehsil of Doda district. According to reports, 21 residential structures developed cracks.

The cracks are reminiscent of the crisis underway in Uttarakhand’s Joshimath where the state government has now been demolishing several structures after declaring them unsafe.

In the affected area of the Chenab riverbank, Farooq Ahmad, a resident, said they were surprised to notice cracks in their concrete houses. “At Least 20 families were relocated from here due to fear," he said, adding that the government should address the situation as soon as possible, “the government will have to make proper arrangements for us. How long will we stay in the relief camps?”

Residents also appealed to the government to arrange for an alternate place for the people now rendered homeless to reside. “We need an alternative land allotment at a safer place. I think none of us can return to the old place now because of fear," said Mohammad Aslam, another resident. He fears that within a few days, his house will collapse or develop cracks, as land subsidence is still happening in the area.

Shabnum, another resident of Doda while referring to the local officials, has said that such an incident has happened for the first time in the area. She said that there were 100 families living in the village and most of them have now shifted to safer locations.

Asif Ahmad, another local whose house has been declared unsafe said that there are apprehensions that several damaged houses may also collapse. “The cracks have rendered the structures unsafe for living and the administration has advised us to shift to safer places,” he said, adding that “the area is unsafe for living now the administration should relocate and rehabilitate us permanently”.

The residents claimed that the land was slipping due to various factors including use of machinery to construct roads, as well as seepage due to the damage to the water bed beneath the village.

They added that said that the Union Territory’s administration has not announced any compensation for the affected residents so far. “We have lost our homes and we have been suffering for the past many days. My house has also been declared unsafe by the administration," says another local, alleging that heavy machinery was used to level a piece of land.

While speaking to the media recently, J&K's Lt Governor Manoj Sinha said the Jammu and Kashmir administration was keeping a close watch on it, but denied the situation was akin to the crisis in Joshimath.

“The best possible assistance will be extended to the affected families. All affected people have been evacuated and there is no need to create much hype. The administration is keeping a close eye on the situation and the best possible action will be initiated,” Sinha told reporters on the sidelines of a function at Raj Bhawan. “I do not have much knowledge. We should have faith in the expert opinion and let them analyse and come out with facts,” he added.

The local administration was informed about the issue weeks ago, but no action was taken in this regard, alleged Showket Ahmad, another local. He said that the government reacted only when the situation started to deteriorate further. “We have been living here for the last 20 years and we don't know where to go now," he said.

According to an official who wished to remain anonymous, at least 21 structures have developed cracks due to ‘sinking’ of land in Thathri Tehsil of Doda-Kishtwar belt since December 2022. He claimed that the mountainous region is identified as a potential hub for generation of hydro-electricity and several projects and other construction activities are underway in geologically sensitive zones.

He added that a relief camp has been established at the Boys’ Higher Secondary School and pre-fabricated structures will be used in case more people need accommodation. "We are making all necessary arrangements, including food and electricity, at the campsite," he said.

He further said the administration was waiting for a report from the Geological Survey of India (GSI) for the follow-up action. "The GSI team who visited the spot on February 5 has not yet sent its report to the administration. We are waiting for the report so that follow-up action can be taken," he added.

Meanwhile, Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Thathri, Athar Amin Zargar said the administration is closely monitoring the overall situation and all necessary and precautionary measures are being taken for the safety of the people.

Union Minister Jitendra Singh had also tweeted, “I am in touch with the Doda DC. A relief camp has been set up for the residents. A geological survey team is already on its way to the affected spot to study the underlying causative factors. Short and long-term remedial measures, as required, will be undertaken.”

Former J&K Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad tweeted, “Sinking of land at Thathri in Doda district is a grave issue affecting dozens of families and their properties. I urge LG Manoj Sinha ji to relocate the families and provide them adequate compensation. The issue needs immediate attention on your part.”

A panel of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) which conducted a study and suggested remedial measures for preventing environmental damage noted that most houses in the area were damaged resulting in displacement of the inhabitants.

Recently, a three member team of experts from National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) visited Nai Basti of Doda and assessed the subsidence of land.

On February 6, five more families were shifted to a school building after their houses developed cracks following an expansion work on a highway in a hilly hamlet Sujmatna in Ramsoo to a safer location after their residential houses developed cracks.

The cracks as per local people were developed after cutting activity was carried out by a construction company on the highway as a result of which the hill began to slide down in the Basti area.

Noted geologist and former professor and head, department of geology, Jammu University GM Bhat, who's team had visited Nai Basti on February 5 said both landslides and subsidence is occurring in the area.

“We have collected samples from the affected area and very soon a final report on the same will be made," he said, adding that there is continuous seepage of household water into the land and this can be one of the primary reasons for subsidence in the affected area. He said that the cracks need to be filled up as soon as possible because rainwater can further enhance subsidence.

In Uttarakhand's Joshimath, hundreds of residents who have been affected due to land subsidence were shifted to relief centres in safe places after cracks appeared at their homes. The reports of the widening of cracks also came to the fore after the town received heavy snowfall in January.

The town of Joshimath is also called Jyotirmath. It is the winter seat of Lord Badrinath, whose idol is brought down from the main Badrinath temple to the Vasudeva temple in Joshimath every winter. The holy town in Joshimath is revered by the Hindus as an important pilgrimage centre of the country. Many experts reportedly blamed uncontrolled construction in eco-sensitive zones as the main reason for the destruction.

In central Kashmir, on February 19, at least 10 residential houses, several shops and four cowsheds were damaged after a landslide struck the Rezan area of Sonamarg in Ganderbal district. Officials say that the landslide was triggered by continuous rains, and caused massive property damage besides blocking the Srinagar-Leh highway.

Soon after the incident, the residents were moved to safer locations while the highway was restored for the traffic movement. The people of the affected village accused the government of constructing the Z-Morh tunnel in the village, which caused damage to their settlement.

The Z-Morh Tunnel is a 6.5 km long tunnel that will connect Kashmir and is being constructed between Gagangair and Sonamarg and the primary objective of the tunnel is to provide uninterrupted connectivity between Srinagar and Kargil during the winter months.

The villagers were already worried that such an incident would happen as a tunnel is being constructed there, Iqbala Begum an elderly woman, said, adding that they narrowly escaped this incident. She alleged that due to the construction of the tunnel, their settlement has been destroyed.

“The blasting activities carried out in the area to make way for the tunnel led to gradual land subsidence over the last two years”, claimed Mushtaq Ahmad a local resident. The villagers alleged that the area is unsafe for living now and the administration should relocate and rehabilitate them. Local officials revealed that hundreds of kanals of agricultural land has also been damaged due to the landslide.

National Conference president and Member Parliament for central Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah who visited the affected area has said that the land erosion in Razen village was due to the ongoing work on Z-Morh tunnel. "I feel the landslide occurred due to ongoing construction work on Z-Morh tunnel," he told reporters at the affected spot.

He also appealed to LG led administration to relocate the affected families to safer places and provide them with adequate compensation so that they can build their homes and restart their lives once again.

On February 19, at least 16 houses were damaged following the “sinking of land” at Duksar Dalwa village in the Sangaldan area of Ramban district of Jammu region. A road stretch of 200 metres was also damaged in land erosion.

The landslides also affected a local graveyard, following which the mortal remains of a local were exhumed and later buried at another place. Considering that they have never seen this situation before, the people there were nervous. "Even the road leading to our settlement was damaged due to landslides," Ishfaq Ahmad, a local said, adding that even the agricultural and horticulture land was also hit by the landslide.

Ahmad said that the entire hill slope has started sliding. "It has paddy fields and the soil is very soft. Prima facie it appears the water seepage in the soft soil may have triggered landslip," he said. The electricity supply to a dozen panchayats in the area was snapped following damage to the 33-kV power transmission line passing through the village.

Power development department, jal shakti department, GREF, and the public works department were asked to assess the impact caused by the landslip on their infrastructure.

Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Gool, Tanveer-ul-Majeed Wani said a total of 13 houses were damaged and became unfit for living due to the ‘landslide’ at Duksar Dal.

The affected families as per SDM were shifted to safer places while they have written to the Geological Survey of India (GSI) for ascertaining the facts. “The expert’s team of GSI is visiting the area in the next couple of days to ascertain the reasons behind the landslide,” he said.

The affected families would be provided compensation from the State Disaster Management Fund as per laid down norms within the shortest possible time, he said, adding that the main road connecting Gool and Sangaldan was closed after it also developed cracks and Border Roads Organisation (BRO) was requested to make the alternate road motorable to facilitate the movement of people and defence vehicles.

Meanwhile, the office of the deputy commissioner Ramban tweeted “On Duksar landslide, requisition sent for expert advice of geologists to ascertain reasons. Tents & blankets provided to affected”. “Relief cases under SDRF expedited. Dist Adm committed to rehabilitate. SDM visits the spot,” he said.

On February 23, a residential house and some shops were damaged after a landslide occurred in the Noorabad area of Damhal Hanjipora in South Kashmir's Kulgam district. The area also witnessed such a landslide for the first time.

Locals said that the area witnessed the first such incident and urged the government to provide compensation to the affected family. Panic gripped the area when a landslide from nearby upper reach struck, damaging a residential house and some shops.

All Photographs Raja Syed Rather