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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : Hill or city, urban planning cannot be an afterthought



Source: The Hindu


  • Prelims: Parliament-Structure, organization and functioning, Disaster Management, Himalayas, GSI, UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, World bank, 74th amendment etc
  • Mains GS Paper II: Parliament- structure, functioning and conduct of Business etc



  • On December 24, 2009, a tunnel boring machine in Joshimath, Uttarakhand, hit an aquifer about 3kms from Selang village.
    • Resulted in the loss of nearly 800 liters of water per second.



Land subsidence:

  • It is the sinking of the ground because of underground material movement.
  • Subsidence can be caused by gradual settling or sudden sinking of the Earth’s surface (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, USA)).
  • The causes for subsidence generally are:
    • Natural causes – earthquakes, glacial isostatic adjustment, soil compaction, erosion, sinkhole formation, etc.
    • Resource extraction – extracting resources such as oil, water, minerals, natural gas, etc. from the ground by mining, fracking or pumping.
    • Construction of infrastructure – excess infrastructure load above the carrying capacity of the soil.


Joshimath or Jyotirmath:

  • It is a temple town and a municipality in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district.
  • The math or monastery is one of the four cardinal institutions founded by Adi Shankaracharya in the four corners of India.
  • The cantonment at Joshimath is one of the closest to the China border.
  • Joshimath has no system to manage wastewater.
  • Ongoing infrastructure projects (the Tapovan Vishnugad dam and the Helang-Marwari bypass road) may also worsen the situation.


The problem in hilly urban India:

  • An estimated 12.6% of India’s land area is prone to landslides, especially in Sikkim, West Bengal and Uttarakhand.
  • According to the National Institute of Disaster Management (and highlighted in the National Landslide Risk Management Strategy, September 2019): Urban policy is making landslides worse .
  • Land use planning in India’s Himalayan towns and the Western Ghats is often ill-conceived, adding to slope instability.
  • Tunneling construction is weakening rock formations.


What steps need to be taken?

  • Acquiring credible data is the first step toward enhancing urban resilience with regard to land subsidence.
  • The overall landslide risk needs to be mapped at the granular level.
  • The Geological Survey of India has conducted a national mapping exercise (1:50,000 scale, with each centimeter denoting approximately 5(zero point five)km).
    • Urban policymakers need to take this further, with additional detail and localisation (1:1,000 scale).
  • Areas with high landslide risk should not be allowed to expand large infrastructure
    • there must be a push to reduce human interventions and adhere to carrying capacity.
  • Any site development in hazardous zones needs assessment by a geologist (with respect to soil suitability and slope stability) and an evaluation of its potential impact on buildings that are nearby.
  • Corrective measures (retention walls), with steps to prohibit construction in hazardous areas.


Case of Aizawl, Mizoram:

  • It is in ‘Seismic Zone V’, and built on very steep slope
  • An earthquake with a magnitude greater than 7 on the Richter scale would easily trigger over 1,000 landslides and cause large-scale damage to buildings.
  • The city has developed a landslide action plan (with a push to reach 1:500 scale),
  • Updated regulations to guide construction activities in hazardous zones.
  • The city’s landslide policy committee is cross-disciplinary in nature, seeking inputs from civic society and university students, with a push to continually update risk zones.


Case of Gangtok, Sikkim:

  • The Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham has helped set up a real-time landslide monitoring and early warning system, with sensors assessing the impact of rainfall infiltration, water movement and slope instability.


 Flood risks of Indian cities:

  • In August 2019, Palava City (Phase I and II) in Dombivli, Maharashtra experienced heavy flooding, leaving residents stranded.
  • Seasonal rain is now increasing in intensity.
    • Reason for the flooding:
      • The township, spread over 4,500 acres, was built on the flood plains of the Mothali river.
      • When planned townships are approved, with a distinct lack of concern for natural hazards, such incidents are bound to occur.
    • Floods in Panjim, Goa, in July 2021, led to local rivers swelling and homes being flooded, leaving urban settlements along the Mandovi affected.
      • Issue:
        • The city, built on marshlands, was once home to mangroves and fertile fields, which helped bolster its flood resilience.
      • Delhi: An estimated 9,350 households live in the Yamuna floodplains
      • UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report of March 2022: highlighted the risk Kolkata faces due to a rise in sea levels.


Measures for Flood-proofing India’s cities:

  • Urban planners will have to step back from filling up water bodies, canals and drains.
    • Focus on enhancing sewerage and stormwater drain networks.
  • Existing sewerage networks need to be reworked and expanded to enable wastewater drainage in low-lying urban geographies.
  • Rivers that overflow need to be desilted regularly along with a push for coastal walls in areas at risk from sea rise.
  • Greater spending on flood-resilient architecture (river embankments, flood shelters in coastal areas and flood warning systems) is necessary.
  • Protecting “blue infra” areas,e., places that act as natural sponges for absorbing surface runoff, allowing groundwater to be recharged, is a must.
  • Urban authorities will need to invest in simulation capacity to determine flooding hotspots and flood risk maps.


Way Forward

  • The combination of poor urban planning and climate change will mean that many of India’s cities could face devastating flooding.
  • Cities need to incorporate environmental planning and enhance natural open spaces.
  • Urban master plans need to consider the impact of climate change and extreme weather;
    • Bengaluru needs to think of 125 mm per hour peak rainfall in the future, as against the current 75 mm.
  • Urban authorities in India should assess and update disaster risk and preparedness planning.
    • Early warning systems will also be critical.
  • Each city needs to have a disaster management framework in place, with large arterial roads that allow people and goods to move freely.



To what extent, in your opinion, has the decentralization of power in India changed the governance landscape at the grassroots?(UPSC 2022) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)