Human onslaught weighs heavy on Himalayan town

By Vishal Gulati, IANS,

Rekong Peo (Himachal Pradesh) : It is a picturesque town located at a height of 2,670 metres with the Kinner Kailash range of the Himalayas as its backdrop, but Rekong Peo is cracking up under the onslaught of heavy rains and human interference.

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Some cracks that surfaced for the first time in September have now widened.

The town is some 235 km from state capital Shimla in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district.

Experts said plentiful rains this year and haphazard constructions are mainly responsible for the increasing width of the cracks.

“The cracks that started appearing in a small portion of the town in September have now spread to more than 500 metres. At some locations, the ground has caved in more than 12 inches,” state geologist Arun Sharma told IANS.

Sharma, who recently visited the town, attributed the surfacing of the cracks mainly to excess rainfall in the region.

“The seepage of sewage has further aggravated the problem. A ‘slip phase’ (accumulation of mud between debris and rock base) has been created that makes the whole strata fragile,” he said.

Kinnaur Deputy Commissioner Sunil Chaudhary said a number of government and private buildings have been declared unsafe and people have been moved to safer places.

He said a multi-storied building of the Beopar Mandal that was badly hit and was causing a threat to the nearby buildings has been demolished.

“An office of irrigation and public health, shops at Indira Market and a government college and its hostels have been declared unsafe and the people have been asked to move out. We are constantly monitoring the situation,” he said.

But the cracks do not threaten the entire town at the moment, he added.

The town supports a population of around 10,000 and boasts of Buddhist monasteries.

Sharma said haphazard constructions in the town are also responsible for the cracks.

“Haphazard construction activity is going on and this is also responsible for the geological equilibrium being disturbed. The solid rock is quite below the surface area and the people are constructing building by digging shallow foundation. This makes the strata slide,” he said.

According to him, reinforced concrete retaining walls should be made below the affected area to stabilise the sliding strata.

The entire Kinnaur district has experienced excess rainfall during the monsoon.

“From June 1 to Sep 28 (the day the monsoon withdrew), Kinnaur got 558.9 mm of rainfall against the normal average of 181.9 mm. It recorded 210 percent more rains,” said Manmohan Singh, director of the meteorological office here.

A team of experts of the Geological Survey of India from Chandigarh is supposed to reach the spot next week to conduct an on-the-spot assessment.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])