Illegal Stone Crushing May Have Led to Landslide in Bengaluru’s Nandi Hills, Say Activists
A landslide in Nandi Hills, a tourist destination 50 kilometers north of Bengaluru, has raised alarms about developmental activities in hilly areas. Officials have ascribed the landslide in the Brahmagiri range to heavy rainfall in the region; but environmentalists point out the role of illegal quarrying, eco-tourism activities, and deforestation in making eco disasters more severe and frequent.
The Nandi hills serve a critical environmental purpose. Among the oldest geological formations in the region, the hills are believed to fuel the stability of peninsular India. Unabated construction and expedited tourism projects have, however, damaged the roots of the region.
Quarrying, or stone crushing, has increased in and around Nandi hills, for instance, with most projects carried out illegally. “Stone quarrying units are functional at 100 places near Nandi Hills. Rapid urbanization has already flattened several hills in and around Bengaluru and Nandi Hills is among the country’s oldest rock beds,” environmentalist A.N. Yellappa Reddy told The Indian Express.
“The dust that emanates from illegal mining is also hazardous to the residents and agricultural activities,” Anjaneya Reddy, an activist based in Chikkaballapur, told The Indian Express.
At the heart of these projects are construction activities and tourism projects. Human activities like mining and quarrying can act as catalysts to extreme events. Quarries are built by removing the surface-level soil. This impacts the natural absorption of water in the ground, causing landslides and mudslides. Experts have noted that these projects are often conducted without scientific studies detailing the impact on the district. Recent projects such as road-widening or building a ropeway serve as examples.
In addition to illegal quarrying destroying habitats, dust, pollution, and waste removal also harm plants and animals. “Usually these effects include a combination of changing landforms and disturbance, for instance, through sedimentation which may arise through excavation and disturbance to land or water through the activities themselves,” the Earthwatch Institute pointed out.
The stone crushing, coupled with diminishing forest cover, has destabilized the region. Roots of trees help to hold the loose soil, but rampant tree felling in the hill range due to quarrying and forest fires has accelerated the threat. Blasting roads in such ecologically sensitive regions will only accelerate the occurrence of landslides, experts note. “Unhindered construction activities in the guise of eco-tourism have also been taking their toll on the hills. Several trees have been cut for development work, resulting in soil erosion,” environmentalist Chidananda Murthy told The Indian Express.
Nandi Hills is not a one-time instance. Growing instances of landslides, floods, cloud bursts, dam breakages are all intertwined with careless human interference.
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The government’s claim that the event resulted due to heavy rainfall alone is a red herring. It is important to forge a link between quarrying and deforestation with the landslide.
Environmentalists have previously flagged the deleterious effects of mining and developmental projects in the region. The pace has only increased as excessive tourism in the area has sparked conversation around ecotourism. The promotion of “low-impact nature tourism,” with the added goal of boosting traditional ecological knowledge, is tricky ground. According to a 2018 study, almost all studies that pegged the transition from ecotourism to biodiversity conservation failed to provide impact assessment on the biodiversity of such projects.
“There are limited examples where revenues from ecotourism are channeled back towards conservation or betterment of local communities whether through the support of grass-roots initiatives, forest department or private initiatives,” the researchers noted.
Earlier this year, the National Board for Wildlife floated new guidelines to implement ecotourism projects. The Board later deferred its decision after concerns from scientists. “Several independent experts have criticized the idea of opening up and fragmenting forests for eco-tourism projects. They highlighted that existing eco-tourism facilities were adding a lot of anthropogenic pressure on protected areas,” Hindustan Times noted.
The idea of sustainable tourism is important. Engagement with local communications and protecting heritage values of hills and wilderness should indubitably pave the way for tourism, but the lack of scientific assessments mars the ability to make this shift.
“People visiting the area have to be educated about Nandi Hills being more than just a weekend getaway. The flora and fauna require protection,” A.N. Yellappa Reddy told Bangalore Mirror.
“If human interference continues in these highly fragile areas, we can expect trouble in a big way.”