Brandub lives amid land slides

Mohinder Kumar
Brandub village is located in Rehama block at distance of 30 km from Baramulla city in Kashmir valley. The village has unique history and distinguishing characteristics of survival amidst adversity. Around 100 years ago (1915) village was settled on plain, horizontal, flat top of a hill. Water from narrow stream Zulfu ‘nallah’ flowed down from hill top. After 1960 i.e. during last 55 years, land in Brandub has sunk and depressed up to 100 meters. It is sinking further. First landslide occurred in 1960. Not only village land is sinking and depressing, its soil is getting washed away by ‘nallah’ and rains causing landslides.

Village Weekly

Entire village and farm land on the slope gives appearance of a wide ‘nallah’, called “Zulfu nallah”. A few years ago, farm land and apple orchard of a wealthy farmer Zulfu Zamindar was totally washed away by ‘nallah’. Villagers gave it a name “Zulfu nallah”.
As per village records, total area of Brandub is 250 acres. Common land is 45 acres (18%) which is now wasteland as it cannot be used for cultivation of crops or grass or pasture for grazing due to recurring landslides each year. Balance 205 acres land is agricultural land, of which 17 acres owned by a farmer “Zulfu Zamindar” was washed away by slides, and destroyed. Existing 188 acres so-called “agricultural land” on slope is also prone to sliding, sinking and depressing each year in rainy season.
Brandub is a small village of 250 households with population 2200; average family size is nine persons. All households are Muslims, marginal farmers and economically backward due to existing conditions and past 50 years history of landslides occurring since 1960. Average size of owned holding is 0.85 acre per farm household. They cultivate maize, wheat and vegetables for family subsistence under extremely trying conditions.
Year of Crisis 2011:-
First shock wave of land depression came to the notice of villagers in 1960. Real devastation started in 1994 with collapse of one house due to land depression. In 2011 came mass destruction when 30 houses were destroyed one after another in quick succession due to landslides, sinking of land, and depression.
Nature of Devastation:-
Besides collapsed house structures, other forms of destruction are also witnessed by villagers. Apple orchards have been washed away. Villagers are cultivating a greater part of 45 acres common land for private benefit or sheer survival as is custom in all villages. Their farms, crops, and trees were washed away in gushing water flow and landslides. But there was fortunately no loss of human life. As soon as villagers noticed cracks, depression and tilt in house structures, they vacated the house along with family. In this way 30 houses got collapsed and were vacated in 2011. Land devastation in Brandub started in 1960. Houses (3-4) were damaged. There was a primary school whose building got completely destroyed due to sinking of land in 1980; today there is no sign of its existence. Where now exists steep land slope giving reflection of massive landslides, there used to be ‘pucca’ building of a primary school. Today bricks of the collapsed school building cannot be located. Later in 2000, a big orchard with standing apple trees was completely washed away. Latest devastation came in 2011 which was locally termed as “year of crisis” even as 30 houses collapsed and destroyed one-by-one.  During 50 years period between 1960 and 2011, each year devastating occurrence happened on village land in the form of sinking, sliding and depressing of some or the other portions of land.
New Land Allotment, Compensation, Free Ration, Assurances:-
Villagers recall timely help from Tehsildar and Revenue Department. District administration provided them tents and instructed them to stay in those tents until alternative arrangement were made. Displaced 28 households (250 persons) stayed in tents for five to six months on what they called “dangerous land” in the village. Thereafter tents got worn out and destroyed due to rain and snowfall in winter. So, they vacated tents. In the interregnum, they returned to those 30 semi-collapsed and dilapidated buildings of old houses. District authority reportedly assured them that new plots on forest land would be allotted to them. However, it was not allotted even as affected households still awaited it. Now 28 kutcha structures raised on same land are in precarious condition and could collapse any time. These affected households were instructed by the district administration not to cultivate that land for 2 years (possibly first, because it was common land and second, because there was a danger of crops again getting flooded away by slides). Villagers were assured “compensation” and “free ration” for survival during two years period of keeping absence from cultivating problematic land. Therefore, these households discontinued cultivation; but they are not yet issued any “compensation” and “free ration”. They survived so far by doing wage labor on agricultural land of big land owners and orchard owners during 2011 and 2012. They got daily wages of Rs.100 per day. They were almost on the verge of semi-starvation sometimes since they would not find work every day and there was no supplementary source of income except wage labor amidst severe cold without house structure.
Real Problem:-
Between 1960 and 2010, district administration perceived that the issue was pertaining to “Zulfu nallah”. In 2011, however, SDM visited “Tarangdi” bridge (wooden bridge) on top of Zulfu nallah and observed that the real issue was land sinking, not Zulfu ‘nallah’ as such. In fact Zulfu nallah was getting widened and taking obnoxious shape and size which appeared to give impression that nallah was the core of problem. It was later observed (after 2011 crisis of massive house collapsing) that sinking of land was causing all the problems. This also implied that soil was problematic. Soil test needed to be done, which so far were not conducted by district administration. Villagers also opined that basic problems related to problematic soil and sinking of land because of that. Problem seen in Zulfu Nallah was actually adverse outcome of real problems related to land formation and soil type.
Action and Solution:-
Villagers have reported the problem to district administration several times. During the period of 50 years between 1960 and 2010 every year some protection works or minor projects were implemented. In the perception of villagers, expenditure of Rs.10-20 lakh has been incurred during past 50-60 years.  But real impact on checking the problem for amelioration in condition of villagers, particularly of those 30 affected households, was not visible. Contracts were given to construct earthen bunds and walls of sand-bags each year. Villagers were employed on contract or wage basis to fill bags with sand dug-out and collected from same site of affected land. Villagers as laborers would be paid @Rs.0.50 per bag for filling it with sand. In rainy season, everything would get washed out. Then again cycle of filling sand bags and erecting ‘kutcha’ bunds would start. With these actions, problem affecting total 250 households in Brandub has not found real solution so far. Villagers still live under threat of greater destruction.
Keeping in view the nature of actual problem of soil and land sinking, more technical and long-lasting solutions are required instead of piecemeal, transitory, and mechanical solutions of erecting ‘kuthca’ bunds or walls of sand bags along both sides of nallah. If year 2011 represented the “year of crisis” and disaster in the making, it is natural though unfortunate to imagine that disaster could occur anytime in future if viable and long-lasting measures to control landslides are not taken in time. Sinking of land is a bigger problem than it appeared. First of all it never appeared for the past 60 years even as flat area on hill top depressed and sunk by 100 meters. In place of hill with flat top (that existed 60 years ago), villagers now have in its place two sides of hill with middle area having sunk and disappeared. The area which got disappeared had very steep sloppy land each year battered by broadening nallah, which was actually not the cause or problem (as hitherto made out) but an impact and outcome of constantly sinking land. Due to the impact of sinking, top layer of land surface was becoming soft, hollow, concave and depressed which in rainy season or due to flow of water in nallah gave appearance of nallah causing landslides. But basically and primarily it was a problem of invisible land sinking. If nallah were a problem then houses situated far away from route of nallah would not witness depression. All structures, buildings, farms, orchards, and trees were facing destruction because of land sinking. Land was sinking because soil formation was defective. Brandub village needs holistic solution to check land-sinking after it is scientifically diagnosed whether defective soil is causing caving-in of land, fields, trees and structures. Agricultural engineers and geologists can suggest long-lasting scientific solution to ameliorate human suffering.
The village initially had one basic problem that has now taken the form of adversity of huge proportion. Over the past 100 years, hill with flat plateau had caved-in gradually in its middle portion while two polar ends were intact. This destructive process of caving-in of village land on hill is still continued. Brandub village is not the only village facing land caving-in problem. Recently Ringpath village (with population of 240 households) in neighboring Handwara block of Kupwara district was also facing the same problem of land caving-in. Cracks in houses were posing serious threat to the lives of the villagers. Land depression occurring due to particular soil characteristics of the hilly area in these two districts (Baramulla, Kupwara) needs systematic geological survey and soil tests by geologists of Geology and Mining Department.
The problem requires more active and serious intervention by district authority. Villagers reported that the issue has been reported to the district administration. Several rounds of meetings were conducted by all stakeholders including government departments and villagers. As precaution affected households were instructed to leave their houses even as tents were set up elsewhere outside/ beyond the boundary of village land. Cultivation of land was banned. As stated they were promised free ration for family until settled properly. They were promised alternative land sites also for settlement/ houses, but nothing was delivered. Since they were barred from cultivation of owned land on sliding hill, they resorted to casual wage-labor outside village for survival. Till the time solution is found villagers are forced to live life in shock and fear, particularly those who are directly affected and whose houses are on the verge of collapsing as cracks have developed due land depression. Villagers specifically requested the survey team by providing copies of documents on current state of village land, maps, proceedings of meetings held with district administration, etc. to report their plight before authorities and virtually pleaded to take up the issue even as villagers’ own efforts had failed or brought to standstill without any outcome. Brandub village in Baramulla district needed urgent and immediate solution for safety and survival. Hopefully it comes at the earliest on human grounds.