India, Pune, landslide, deforestation, Bismillah Gelani

Laxmi Jhanjare and her husband are now the only two surviving members of their family of 10.

The couple had gone to visit their relatives in Pune when a massive landslide swept through their village killing the rest of the family.

“I have lost everything. My in-laws, my children, my home everything‘s gone.  I’m ruined. Why did they leave me behind? What can I do now?”

Local Hira Bai says the landslide buried almost the entire village within minutes.

“I was in the backyard and I heard an explosion like sound. I immediately rushed out and what I saw there was only mud everywhere. No human being, no house, nothing was visible. I got scared and ran away to the neighboring village.

The rescue workers have pulled out 8 survivors and 151 dead bodies from the rubble.

Hopes of finding survivors are fading.

The government has announced a relief and rehabilitation package for the area.

Geologists and environmentalists are saying the government has to take some responsibility for causing the tragedy.

Environmentalists blame a government income generation scheme that required hill slopes to be flattened and thousands of trees to be felled.

Official data indicates that nearly 28,000 trees were cut, but unofficial figures put the count at 300,000.

C S Dubey is a Geologist says this has had a huge impact in this area.

“This is an area that receives heavy rainfall and that’s why it had dense forests until a few years ago. Now the trees have been cut and they are planning to make it an agricultural land. But whenever you flatten a land like this, it’s natural drainage system gets disturbed and the water then makes its way through seepage and when the pressure on it increases it explodes and then whatever comes in the way is either washed away or buried beneath.

Many believe the construction of a windmill project in the area was also to blame.

Ecologist Madhav Gadgil led an environmental study into development projects in the area a few years ago.

He says he warned the authorities of the impending danger in his report.

“We have shown in detail how a complete disregard for any kind of environmental concern by the windmill project executors has led to a large number of landslides all along where they have constructed the roads up to the hilltop.”

The government says they will commission a fresh study to find out the cause of the disaster.

Rajnath Singh is India’s Home Minister.

“We will certainly learn our lessons from this tragedy but let’s not jump to the conclusion about its causes, let’s wait for the study report.”

But Environmental activists like Vishamber Chaudhari are not hopeful they will learn from this.

“Development is the sole priority, the cost is not measured. So we sacrifice human beings we scarifies the environment and whatever else it takes. And the safeguards that we have and can protect against this onslaught are being weakened by the government.”

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