Kashmir has no access to nuclear energy. It cannot even hope to have one in the given situation. But that does not lessen the worries of this place falling in the category IV and V seismic zones because quite a good part of the vital infrastructure is placed very dangerously.
Take the case of the power projects. Two major operational projects, the state owned Baglihar and the NHPC’s Salal are located on active fault lines. In fact Sawlakote, the new 1200-MW project that is being negotiated afresh after a protracted legal battle, is also on the same line.
Geologists had raised the issue when the implementation on Baglihar power project started. They were worried that a fault line actually slices the main dam into two. They did raise the issue when the then chief minister visited Jammu University. Chief Minister was not surprised even. But he enquired that if, in case of an earthquake, the dam can destroy Pakistan? “Then it is all right,” responded the chief minister when informed that it has the potential of destroying everything on its two banks. But he did not hear that before reaching Pakistan, it will devastate Akhnoor and Poonch.
India Railways did taste a bit on this front while implementing the prestigious railway line to Baramulla. They had skipped involving local geologists and had drafted the blueprint of the track in their own ivory tower.
It was at the peak of railways’ efforts to get a chief guest for starting the Udhampur-Katra line when one of the tunnels was found to be sinking. At least three tunnels on this track are facing problems, in one of them an 800-meter stretch had already sunk. One tunnel is facing severe seepage problem.
In another tunnel work was ruled out as a lot of water got into the tunnel. A curious Ghulam Nabi Azad, as the then chief minister, visited the belt and saw that it had a roaring river under it. The railways have already hired a foreign consultant and they are waiting for their opinion to fix the problems.
But this is not the only problem that Railways is facing. In Sangladan, for instance, the Railways, maintained an enigmatic silence over a severe accident that took place in September 2006.
Between two tunnels it built a track of 500-meters and it collapsed. It destroyed a vast stretch of land on the slope housing as many as 100 structures besides over 400 meters of the road connecting Mahore-Gulabgarh with the rest of the state. A departmental enquiry was announced but nobody is aware of its outcome. The victims of the accident were paid compensation.
The Railways did not know that they had set up the track on a fossil slide which failed to withstand the weight and crumbled, though it was known to local experts for decades. The Railways did not know that in this part of the Himalaya the rock types change after almost every half a kilometer.
“It is just the tip of the iceberg and costs could be enormous given the arrogance with which the project-planners ignored the local expertise,” said Dr G M Bhat, of the Jammu University. “Working on satellite imagery and drafting alignment in air conditioned cabins on basis of remote sensing has these strings always attached”.
Dr Bhat said the railway line between Udhampur and Banihal – the most challenging part of the prestigious national project that may end up devouring well over Rs. 20,000 crore – has three major active geological fault lines: the Main Boundary Thrust (between Udhampur and Katra), the Muree Thrust (between Baglihar and Sangaldan) and the Panjal Thrust (between Digdol and Mahu Mangat).
“The 2005 earthquake triggered a four-meter displacement on the Main Boundary Thrust in Muzaffarbad. If it happens there, it can happen here because all these three fault-lines are active on both sides of the LoC”, he insists. “We never say railway tracks cannot cross fault-lines but we believe that had local expertise been involved, extensive field work would have reduced the costs and perfected the alignment”.
It is not Railways alone. Even the 2500-meter Jawahar Tunnel suffered some damage in the last earthquake and can be impacted by any future earthquake as well. The tunnel built by French is the only operational gateway and its collapse can trigger a crisis. The government is planning a longer tunnel as part of a new highway that will reduce the length to Jammu by around 50 kms.
According to a presentation by the Home Ministry to the cabinet in 2005 there is lot of infrastructure that suffered damage in the earthquake. These included Lower Jhelum hydel project, Seeloo and Chankhana bridges in Sopore, Charar-e-Sharif shrine, Jamia Masjid Gund (Kangan) and Moti Mahal of Poonch.