‘Unregulated construction along riverbanks poses a huge risk’

Unregulated construction activities pose a serious risk to the Yamunotri temple, a popular pilgrim destination in Uttarakhand, increasing its vulnerability to landslips, data gathered by the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS), Dehradun, shows. The site, which represents the source of the Yamuna river, has been rendered vulnerable by heavy construction along the banks, exposing pilgrims to the risk of landslips triggered by heavy rain or earthquake, P.K. Champati Ray, professor and Head, Geosciences and Geohazards, IIRS, said.

Satellite data analysed by the IIRS found a shift in the course of the river towards the temple, Dr. Ray said in his address at a one-day national consultation workshop titled ‘Towards a safer State: lessons from Uttarakhand’ organised by the Institute of Land and Disaster Management (ILDM) here on Thursday.

“The analysis showed heavily built-up areas on the banks, with some constructions right on top of the gabions installed for protection of the banks.”

Dr. Ray said the IIRS had suggested remedial measures such as macro fencing to shore up the vulnerable stretches of the banks. “Our recommendations include assessment of landslips using satellite and aerial observation, river channelization, preparation of a detailed landslip inventory, risk assessment, detection of land use changes, and glacial lake and snow cover mapping.”

The institute had also highlighted the need for pilgrim management and communication of the risks to the pilgrims.

Situated at an altitude of 10,800 feet, Yamunotri is one of the four sites in the Chota Char Dham pilgrim circuit, the other three being Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath which was ravaged by flash floods and landslips in June this year.

Dr. Ray said the maps prepared by the IIRS based on satellite imagery had been distributed to the Uttarakhand Police, the army, and the air force units which participated in the rescue operations in Uttarakhand.

The maps, he said, had helped the rescue teams to locate villages and settlements ravaged by the floods and identify safe locations. “3-D fly-through maps were also provided to the air force for critical areas in the Kedarnath sector.” Dr. Ray said the IIRS had followed up with a post-disaster landslip inventory and a rainfall threshold-based modelling for landslips at Kedarnath.

He stressed the need to generate grassroots-level data to assess the changes in the environment that could trigger disasters.

Earlier inaugurating the workshop, Chief Secretary E.K. Bharat Bhushan said time-consuming procedures and tardy response of the State machinery were posing impediments to disaster management. Highlighting the need to overcome the deficiencies, he said the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) was trying to equip the State with the skills to manage natural and man-made disasters.

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