Uttarakhand has a history of earthquakes but nobody cares!

Politicians, who are busy fighting for votes and promising the moon to the electorate, have no plans in place to get the required infrastructure or to take steps for understanding of the eco-system.

Published: 23rd February 2017 07:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 23rd February 2017 07:00 PM   |  A+A-

The Ganga flows by the Garhwal hills on Sunday as sleepy Uttarakhand stirred up for the approaching election on February 14 | Vikram Sharma

Express News Service

RUDRAPRAYAG: In the last six years, Uttarkashi, Chamoli, Rudraprayag and several other areas in Uttarakhand have been repeatedly jolted by earthquakes ranging from magnitudes of 4 to 5.1 on the Richter scale. The most recent one on February 6, with a magnitude of 5.8, was enough to bring back memories of the previous times.

Though leading experts studying the fragile Himalayan eco-system are repeatedly giving a clear warning of a major earthquake anytime, politicians, who are busy fighting for votes and promising the moon to the electorate, have no plans in place to get the required infrastructure or to take steps for a better understanding of the eco-system.

As is expected, the day after the earthquake, netas from all parties did not forget to express their ''solidarity'' with the people by visiting their houses in their respective constituencies. For the people and experts, this meant nothing.

''We are expecting a major earthquake, something above six on the Richter scale, which can cause considerable damage. Himalayas are sensitive and unfortunately, our governments have not planned anything despite being hit by major earthquakes in 1991 and 1999. This is a cycle and every 10 years, Uttarakhand will be hit by a major earthquake. It can happen today, tomorrow or in the near future but it will happen,'' says Dr Anil P Joshi, founder of the Himayalan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation (HESCO), which has been working in Uttarakhand and other Himalayan states for the past three decades.

A recipient of the Padmashri award, Dr Joshi says that if the government does not regulate the construction of high-rise buildings and hydroelectric projects, it will surely pay a heavy price. ''Uttarakhand falls in the category of high seismic zone and a major earthquake will repeat. By regulating the construction in the hills, we can minimize the effects of earthquake. But unfortunately, our governments wake up only when disaster strikes,'' he says.

After the devastating 1999 earthquake, the Centre had constituted a committee of eminent environmentalists to come up with various methods through which seismic activity could be studied in great depth and appropriate measures could be taken to minimise damage in the wake of major earthquakes.

One such proposal was to set up an observatory centre in the Himalayas to continuosly monitor seismic activites, study the Himalayan eco-system and suggest ways and means to minimise damage. Importantly, the idea was to predict the occurrence of an earthquake.

“I was part of this committee and though all members had unanimously suggested setting up an observatory centre in the Himayalas, the suggestion remained only on paper. Successive governments forgot about it. Even if it is set up now, it would contribute significantly in understanding seismic activities and predicting earthquakes. But the governments have to be serious. They are only interested in getting votes and are least bothered about what happens to the people. Despite the Kedarnath tragedy, we have not learnt any lessons,'' says Dr Joshi.

This committee was formed under the ministry of Science and Technology and Dr Joshi says that the government should wake up now. ''Otherwise, we will pay a heavy price. In the name of development, building high-rises is an open invitation to disaster that is lurking around the corner,'' he warns.

''The whole construction management depends upon the status and nature of the region, demand, resources and, most importantly, the ecological dimensions. This is more important as the Himalayas are a fragile and ecologically sensitive zone. Besides, the constant threat of floods and earthquakes makes it more vulnerable compared to other geographical locations in the country," he pointed out.

He said the recent disaster in Uttarakhand along with the past ones necessitate a total review of the construction approach.

Dr Joshi points out that advanced construction and management approaches might be suitable for cities, but in rural India and especially in the Himalayas, these are not of much use.

Quoting studies, another environmentalist, Ajay Singh Rawat says

Uttarakhand is among the most seismically active parts of the country and many earthquakes of the magnitude 5.5 on the Richter scale have hit the hill state since the year 1900.

''The state straddles several active parallel thrust faults that form the ranges of the Himalayas. These faults have been formed in the highly folded strata of these mountains. The main active features, as far as the ecosystem is concerned, is the main boundary thrust as well as the main frontal thrust. Any slippage between these has generated major earthquakes in the past” he said.

He says the last time an earthquake of the magnitude 7.5 on the Richter scale hit the hill state was some 200 years back.

''One cannot stop nature but yes, we can minimise the damage by taking many steps, particularly, in regard to the construction activity which is going on unabated in the hills,'' he says.

According to one report, of the 13 districts in Uttarakhand—nine of which are in the hills—Chamoli and Bageshwar come under 100 per cent hyper sensitive seismic zones while five districts, including Dehradun, Champawat, Nainital, Uddhamsingh Nagar and Haridwar come under 100 per cent sensitive zone.

''Sensitivity percentages in Rudraprayag and Pithoragarh are 98.3 and 94.9 respectively. Similarly, it is 96.8 in Tehri and Pauri, 83.3 in Uttarkashi and 81.6 in Almora,'' the report says adding that the unplanned constructions in

Dehradun was also making it more vulnerable to earthquakes where the population has increased manifold in the last four decades.

''They have promised jobs, spoken about taking steps to stop migration from the

hills, no one speaks about what steps can be taken to minimise damage and loss of lives in the hills. I think had any party included this aspect in their election manifesto, they would have certainly got several more votes,'' said Amar Chauhan, a hotel manager in Rudraprayag.


The construction approach should be decentralised with the use of local materials and centuries-old local wisdom which reflects in the old structures in the hills. The contractual time-bound approach and ignorance of local conditions and wisdom, especially in public infrastructure, have jeopardised the construction values.

The factors of fragility of the Himalayas and sensitivity of the hills were completely ignored while constructing roads in a hurry. Earlier, the roads were built manually which did not cause much damage to the hills, but the use of JCB machines, electric drillers and dynamites has shaken the base rocks and hill sides, triggering landslides and heavy rains. Looking at the sensitivity of the Himalayas, a green road construction approach must be followed. There should be green treatment of damaged road walls as well.

By treating the roadsides with necessary vegetation and by providing mechanical support, the problems of frequent road debris in every rain can be prevented. In many European countries and in China, road construction is inclusive of green treatment. In the fragile Himalayas, aggressive mechanisation cannot be allowed to preserve longevity of roads.

Year 1991: Uttarkashi suffered one of India's deadliest earthquakes that killed nearly 730 people and affected over three lakh.

Year 1999: Another major earthquake hit the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand in which 103 people died.

2012 and 2013: Flash floods and landslides killed thousands and left several thousands homeless.


July 06, 1505 - Lo Mustang-Globo area, China

Magnitude: 8.2

Heavy damage reported in regions along the China-Nepal border. Tremors felt strongly in many parts of north India and damage was reported from Agra, Delhi, Dholpur, Gwalior and Mathura.

1751 - Daba area (Xizang), China

Magnitude: 7.0

This earthquake has been discovered from Tibetan writings and describes damages in and around the Guge area of southern Xizang (or Tibet) along the border with India.

September 01, 1803 - Kumaon-Gharwal area, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 7.0

This earthquake is believed to be one of the strongest in this region. Between 200 and 300 were killed and several villages were buried by landslides and rockfalls. The Badrinath temple located nearly 40 km north of Chamoli was severely damaged. Tremors were felt as far away as Kolkata. Due to liquefaction effects at Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, this earthquake is often wrongly placed in the Mathura area.

May 26, 1816 - Gangotri area, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 6.5

This earthquake was located south of Gangotri, in the glaciers surrounding the Badrinath peak.

June 16, 1902 - Pokhra-Kainur area, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 6.0

This earthquake was located south-east of Pauri in Uttarakhand.

June 13, 1906 - Gangotri area, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 6.1

This earthquake was located near Gangotri, in the glaciers surrounding the Badrinath peak.

July 27, 1926 - Near Changabang Peak, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 6.5

This earthquake was centred in the vicinity of the Changabang Peak, which lies in the vicinity of Nanda Devi National Park in Uttarakhand.

October 08, 1927- Indo-China border

Magnitude: 6.1

This earthquake was centred north of the town of Dakar, Uttarakhand.

June 04, 1945 - Near Nanda Devi Peak, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 6.5

This earthquake was centred in the vicinity of the peak Nanda Devi (Elevation: 7,817 metres)

December 28, 1958 - Rameshwar-Devi Dhura area, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 6.1

This earthquake is called the Kakpot earthquake. More than a dozen buildings collapsed. Fissures and landslides were generated in an area within 150 kilometres of Kapkote

June 27, 1966 - Athpali-Dhung area, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 6.2

This earthquake was centred in Far-western Nepal, along the border with


October 19, 1991 - Pilang-Bhatwari area, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 6.8

768 people were killed and nearly 5,000 injured in this earthquake in Uttarkashi district. Some 18,000 buildings were destroyed in the Uttarkashi-Chamoli region. Landslides and rockfalls were widespread in the Gharwal Hills. Tremors were felt over a wide area of northern India, western Nepal and Pakistan. Minor damage was reported from New Delhi and Chandigarh.

January 05, 1997 - Dharchula area, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 5.6

Tremors felt strongly in many parts of Uttaranchal, including Nainital, Kumaon and Terai areas.

March 28, 1999 - Chamoli-Pipalkoti area, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 6.4

115 people killed in the Gharwal region. The quake was felt strongly in Uttar Pradesh, Chandigarh, Delhi and Haryana.

March 30, 1999 - Chamoli-Pipalkoti area, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 4.9 

50 people were injured in this tremor which was an aftershock of the event on March 28, 1999. Several buildings developed further cracks and many damaged houses at Maithana village collapsed. At Barai in Chamoli district, 20 houses

collapsed and 11 developed cracks, while at Kotiyal 4 houses collapsed and 85 developed cracks.

March 31, 1999 - Chamoli-Pipalkoti area, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 3.0

One person was killed and several injured in a house collapsed at Hat Pipalkot in Chamoli district. Felt at Chamoli and Rudryaprayag.

May 27, 2003 - Bangina region, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 5.0

A moderate earthquake struck the Gharwal Himalayas on May 27, 2003 at 09:53 AM local time.

December 14, 2005 - Pokhri-Gopeshwar region, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 5.0

A moderate earthquake struck the Gharwal region of Uttarakhand, on December 14, 2005 at 12:39 IST causing minor damage to property in some parts of Uttarakhand. The earthquake had a magnitude of 5.0 and was felt at many places in Uttarakhand as well as in Delhi.

August 5, 2006 - Thal area, eastern Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 4.4

A light earthquake struck the Nepal-India border, on August 5, 2006

causing damage to property in parts of eastern Uttarakhand, India.

July 22, 2007 - Surka Ridge, Uttarakhand

Magnitude: 5.0

A moderate earthquake struck the Yamnotri region in Uttarkashi district, Uttarakhand, on July 22, 2007 causing a few injuries and minor damages to property in parts of Uttarakhand.

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