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Haphazard construction on hills behind disasters

By Staff reporter
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GUWAHATI, June 26 � It is a self-invited disaster for many who have built dwellings on fragile hill slopes. And today�s tragedy at Santipur Hillside, in which one person was buried alive, reveals it all too well.

Spells of rain stretching over several days had softened the red soil containing stones and rotting vegetation. Around seven in the morning the face of a slope gave away and descended over a rickety house in which the victim was preparing his meal. In less than a few minutes, he was encased by layers of red earth and rocks.

It would take several hours of arduous work by intrepid first responders before the body could be retrieved.

People who were part of the rescue effort and who surveyed the area were surprised to witness the extent of hill cutting that has taken place. Small dwellings had sprouted on steep slopes shorn of green cover.

Digging of wells, unplanned construction of drains and footpaths have further damaged the landscape and allowed water to seep into the ground. Surface runoff has increased manifold.

Similar sights are visible in dozens of areas on the hills in and around the city, with forest department personnel stating that even after repeated interventions and appeals people continue to build on hill slopes.

The demand for �patta�s for dwellers on hill slopes has not helped matters, according to the department�s officials. �The political compulsions have ensured that removal of encroachers is now almost impossible,� a senior forest official stated.

Recent studies based on satellite imagery have also pointed to large scale encroachment on hills within the city limits. Change of land-use has been rapid in the last three decades and among the areas which have emerged as most vulnerable are wetlands and hills. The gradual disappearance of both due to human intervention has contributed to clogging of the city�s drainage network leading to urban floods.

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Haphazard construction on hills behind disasters

GUWAHATI, June 26 � It is a self-invited disaster for many who have built dwellings on fragile hill slopes. And today�s tragedy at Santipur Hillside, in which one person was buried alive, reveals it all too well.

Spells of rain stretching over several days had softened the red soil containing stones and rotting vegetation. Around seven in the morning the face of a slope gave away and descended over a rickety house in which the victim was preparing his meal. In less than a few minutes, he was encased by layers of red earth and rocks.

It would take several hours of arduous work by intrepid first responders before the body could be retrieved.

People who were part of the rescue effort and who surveyed the area were surprised to witness the extent of hill cutting that has taken place. Small dwellings had sprouted on steep slopes shorn of green cover.

Digging of wells, unplanned construction of drains and footpaths have further damaged the landscape and allowed water to seep into the ground. Surface runoff has increased manifold.

Similar sights are visible in dozens of areas on the hills in and around the city, with forest department personnel stating that even after repeated interventions and appeals people continue to build on hill slopes.

The demand for �patta�s for dwellers on hill slopes has not helped matters, according to the department�s officials. �The political compulsions have ensured that removal of encroachers is now almost impossible,� a senior forest official stated.

Recent studies based on satellite imagery have also pointed to large scale encroachment on hills within the city limits. Change of land-use has been rapid in the last three decades and among the areas which have emerged as most vulnerable are wetlands and hills. The gradual disappearance of both due to human intervention has contributed to clogging of the city�s drainage network leading to urban floods.

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