Our heart goes to the victims of the tragic accident where a massive landslide hit a NF Railway worksite and an Indian Army company at Tupul in Noney district, Manipur. As of Friday, the death toll rose to 21. Search and rescue operation by a joint team of the Indian Army, Assam Rifles, Territorial Army, SDRF and NDRF continued at the incident site.
WATCH: Massive Landslide at NF Railway Worksite in Manipur
According to the NDRF, 13 more bodies were recovered since early morning till 12.30 pm, taking the death toll to 13 and it is set to rise as rescue efforts continue. Eighteen of the rescued were critically injured, while several others were still missing. As many as 81 people were affected by the landslide.
Every year during monsoon season, we have had landslides in the highways and roads in the interior parts of the state. However, casualty figures were minimal. So, we must say, the scale of disaster in the Tupul incident is unprecedented while also heralding many more devastating incidents in the coming future.
WATCH: Tupul landslide
Some blame deforestation and jhum cultivation or unfettered cutting of hills for widening the highway by contractors. But, it is not that easy and we have to stop looking for someone to blame every time a disaster happens. Yes, one agrees that there is massive forest degradation happening in the hills of Manipur and mountaintops are becoming bald and it is a problem which needs to be tackled with the cooperation of the local people.
Chief Minister N Biren Singh had once instructed forest officials to go and see for themselves the state of degradation and take up appropriate measures for rejuvenating forest cover in Koubru and other hill ranges for the sake of future generations and also appealed to the people inhabiting in the general area to cooperate with forest officials.
Mountain forests perform a protective function against natural hazards, so that when the forest cover is lost and the land is left unprotected, runoff and soil erosion increase, provoking landslides, avalanches and floods, to the detriment of villages, transport systems, human infrastructures and of the food security of vulnerable populations. In Koubru range, government efforts were met with stiff opposition from Kuki groups claiming it as their turf where forest laws do not apply. It happened again in the Thangjing hill range.
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Well, the other side of the story is climate change. It is not because of the soil in our hill ranges as the chief minister implied on his tour of the affected areas of the Tupul landslide. This monsoon, the intensity of the rains had been heavy and quite unprecedented or contrary to predictions. And the landslide happened in a NF Railway worksite.
The railway people would not have located such a worksite without going through soil tests and terrain mapping of the area and they must have considered the area as a safe zone for establishing the worksite. The security forces also must have relied on the safety evaluations of the Railway engineers and located their quarters there. If such a massive landslide is happening in the NFR worksite, it is not safe anywhere.