Jammu & Kashmir: The Forgotten Tragedy Of Sinking Dalwas Village, Locals Blame Unscientific Road Construction

In March, 2020, the villagers of Dalwas were forced to flee from their homes as their houses came down and agricultural land was submerged due to landslides. The residents and local politicians blamed unscientific highway construction for the incident.

Damage from the landslide in Dalwas village in Jammu and Kashmir's Ramban

The sinking of a village did not just devastate their houses and submerge their agricultural land only, but it also traumatise the villagers physically and mentally, says Ankur Dogra, an activist from Dalwas village on the Srinagar-Jammu highway in Ramban district.

On March 28, 2020, the villagers of Dalwas were forced to flee from their homes as their houses came down and agricultural land was submerged due to landslides. The residents and local politicians blamed unscientific highway construction for the incident.

Even after more than two years of the incident that washed away agricultural land and around 40 houses in the village, the villagers are still waiting for compensation.

Ankur, a geography teacher, says, “Soon after the incident, I interviewed older generations of the village who were moved to government schools along with their families. They were crushed and shattered. They had turned into mental wrecks. They had grown up in the village. They had memories of living in the village with their parents and grandparents and with their children and grandchildren, and, all of sudden, everything was gone. The tragedy had a deep impact on their memories.”

Ankur, who is himself from Ramban district, says these people were living in the village for centuries and they don’t recall any such incident in their living memory where a village was hit by such an incident.

“Had this tragedy happened somewhere in Srinagar or in Jammu districts, the whole media focus would have been on it. The villagers live with mental trauma every day. Since it has taken place in Ramban district, it didn’t get any priority and it has been forgotten. That is the reason people of the area are still suffering,” says Ankur.

Ashok Kumar Dogra, a former legislator from Ramban, said some of the villagers were moved to nearby areas after the landslide and they were promised that they will be given rent till the compensation is worked out. 

“But with the passage of time, they were forgotten,” says Ashok.

Ashok says the incident was caused by unscientific planning of the construction of the four-lane National Highway in the area. 

He says, “The highway authorities started excavation of road from beneath the village without raising any wall on the side of the village. As no concrete measures were taken by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to protect the village and debris was also disposed of at the same place, the tragedy was bound to happen and the houses collapsed and the village sank.”

“I will not call it a natural disaster,” says Ashok, adding it was the unplanned construction that destabilised the soil of the whole area, leading to its sinking. 

“I protested many times seeking compensation for the villagers but so far they haven’t been given payment,” says Ashok.

In 2020, the district authorities didn’t allow the villagers to protest citing Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. However, in September 2021, Kumar, along with several landslide victim families from Dalwas, staged a protest demonstration against the government for delay in providing compensation. 

“When the incident took place, all senior government officials were here promising affected people compensation and all kinds of help. But after the incident, they forgot the people and their tragedy as well. They have left them to fend for themselves,” alleged Ashok.

Soon after the incident, the district administration shifted the affected families to the government schools and panchayat ghar for shelter and then started assessing the losses.

“Since then nothing has happened,” says Ashok. 

One of the affected residents refused to speak, saying, “I am tired of telling the same story as nothing is happening.”

Dr Yudhvir Singh, a professor in the Geology Department, University of Jammu, who has extensively studied the area, says geologists are not against the development. 

He says, “I want development but, at the same time, the construction company must take the basic concerns into consideration. The development shouldn’t take place at the cost of lives and livelihood of people.

“There is a hazard there during the road construction in the Himalayas but it shouldn’t be converted into a disaster. That is why input from local geologists should be taken. In developed countries, roads are being constructed in hilly areas but disasters don’t happen there. Because they are taking all inputs, especially geological inputs.”

Singh adds that landslide data should be made available for geologists before making the construction of the roads in mountain areas. Ankur agrees. 

He says, “Once you construct roads in mountains and come up with big projects, it is your responsibility to talk to locals and take their opinion, talk to local leaders. Because any mistake on your behalf is endangering our lives and livelihood.”