Intro : To subside threat, an artificial channel was created through the huge landslide that blocked Zanskar River under ‘Operation Phuktal’ by the Army.
When India was learning about the preparedness of the Indian Army for the flood situation in Kashmir Valley, Army was busy completing a Herculean task in the Zanskar region of Ladakh, the task completely missed by the national media. The men in uniform were risking life in tough terrain of Kargil in Ladakh under 25 degree temperature, chilly winds and deadly vertical heights, doing what they are best in; saving people’s lives, serving Jammu and Kashmir and thereby serving humanity and nation.
The picturesque Zanskar Valley in Jammu and Kashmir is under threat as one of the tributaries (Phutkal River) of the Zanskar River has been blocked by a massive 200 ft high landslide dam (equal to height of a 20 storey building). Under ‘Operation Phutkal’ the joint task force of the Army, Air Force and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), on April 1, finally created a 75 meter long, 2 meter wide and 2 meter deep channel through the landslide over Phuktal river to drain out water from the lake that was created by a massive landslide in Zanskar sub division of Kargil district in Ladakh.
The landslide that had happened in January this year had caused complete blockage of water in the Phuktal River between Shaday Sumdo and Mar Shun in Zanskar subdivision of Kargil district, resulting in accumulation of more than 30 million cubic meters of water and created about 8 km long lake, whose size is increasing with every passing day. The lake had been created around 90 km from Padum, the sub-divisional headquarters of Zanskar, 43 km of that distance has to be trekked on foot. It was feared that a sudden bursting of the landslide would cause unimaginable catastrophe due to floods in downstream villages that could cause submersion of villages apart from loss of livelihood and damage to life and property. Sudden burst in the landside could have also damaged the Nimmu Bazgo project near Alchi which is the life line of Leh district throwing the entire region into darkness in the summer months.
The region being cut off during winter months, the place of landslide could have not been reached by foot in anyway due to its inaccessible terrain. The entire operation Phuktal, as named, had to be maintained by air. 500 sorties of Army and Air Force helicopters ferried 38 tons of load under extremely hazardous and demanding flying conditions for the operation.
The lake formed by landslide is frozen presently. With the summers approaching the lake will start melting and also more and more water will reach the lake as the ice on the higher altitude will also melt. On the other hand, the size of the channel created is very small (100m*2m*2m) as compared to the lake formed (15000m*100m*50m) and the size of the landslide (400m*100m*50m debris). The accumulation and flow of water from the channel would be monitored closely so that immediate steps could be taken if channel gets blocked by nearby debris. For now the water is continuously flowing through the channel and the creation of the artificial channel in a tough terrain is a feat in itself that was accomplished by the Army along with central teams like NDRF.
Arvind (The writer is a researcher at J&K Study Center, New Delhi)