State's disaster preparedness in question as deadly landslide kills several in Raigad

Over 100 more still feared trapped, as rescue operation halts for the night due to incessant rains.

Credit : Indie Journal


The landslide in Irshalwadi/Irsalwadi, an adivasi village in Maharashtra’s Raigad district, which killed at least 16, with several more missing, has raised questions about the preparedness of the state in preventing the loss of life during such disasters. While around 100 have been known to be rescued, over 100 more are still feared trapped under debris. The rescue operations have been hindered by the incessant rains, with a red alert issued to the district tomorrow (Friday, July 21) as well.

The Chief Minister and several other leaders reached the village today, within hours after the landslide occurred late Wednesday night. However, climate activists do assert that despite their insistence, the government has not shown any seriousness in developing better mechanisms for predicting landslides and saving lives.

“After the tragic landslide in Pune district’s Malin village in 2014, that killed at 151 villagers, we realised that the only way to save people in such instances was to predict the disaster. Satark then began developing technology to do the same, no one else had done that earlier,” says Mayuresh Prabhune, Founder of Satark, a Citizens' initiative for extreme weather alerts.

He says Satark developed the first landslide prediction system in the country. “The India Meteorological Department (IMD) does mention the possibility of landslides in ghat areas in their impact based forecast, but where in ghat areas? It is very vague. Similarly, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) also maps the landslide prone villages based on the caving of the land or development of cracks, but that also keeps changing every monsoon and it is difficult to map each and every village in the vast Sahyadris. Satark has developed a prediction model for landslide prone regions based on the plotting of past landslides, satellite images and rainfall data,” Prabhune adds.

Landslides have been becoming a more common occurrence in the state in the past few years. In 2021, there were several landslides in the state, with the more disastrous one being in Raigad district itself. The landslide in Taliye village in Mahad taluka left over 100 people dead or missing. Landslide and flood preparedness of the state was discussed after the incident then as well.

Speaking from the spot today, even Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde also said that Irshalwadi was not in the list of villages marked at risk for landslides. “We had issued orders to the villages in the list to evacuate villagers in the landslide prone areas. However, this village was not in the list.



On Tuesday, Satark issued an advisory stating that Raigad, Pune, Satara, Ratnagiri, Mumbai, Sindhudurg and Thane districts faced a higher risk of landslide activity in the coming 48 hours.

However, Prabhune says, despite repeated attempts, the Maharashtra Government has not positively responded to his calls to take the issue seriously and use the system across the state.

“We can give out the alerts, but for these alerts to reach people on time, we need to work with the government. But no government is taking this seriously. We are not even getting a meeting with the Disaster Management Chief,” he adds.

Satark has plotted around 400 landslides across the state since 2015. Based on that, Prabhune said it can predict patterns that could lead to disastrous landslides. The organisation also plans to install rain gauges in each and every village in the state for more localised weather forecasts, which could in turn also help predict landslides better. But with a lack of response from the government, the organisation has begun installing the rain gauges on their own, in as many villages as possible.

“Landslides cannot be prevented, but the loss of life could be. We could issue alerts to villagers in the prone areas and ensure that they are evacuated to safer places until the rainfall decreases. Even is there is no landslide, precaution is the key here. However, the networking required for this is not possible without government support,” Prabhune further exasperates.



The Goa Government signed an MoU with Satark last year to install rain gauges in landslide prone villages. “The prone areas in Goa are fewer, but the localised weather systems are helping people monitor rainfall. Why can’t this happen in our state,” he asks.


Irshalwadi Landslide

Incessant rains have been pouring down over several district in Central Maharashtra and Konkan, including Raigad, over the past two-three days. Late on Wednesday night, a landslide occurred at Irshalwadi village in Khalapur taluka in Raigad district. There are around 48 houses in the area affected by the landslide. At least 25 to 28 homes have reportedly been buried under the debris at present.

While ministers and rescue workers have been reaching the village since after midnight, the weather and inaccessibility of the village have proved to be a hindrance in the rescue operation. Since there is no road connectivity to the village, those coming for rescue need to walk at least 1 km before reaching the site. Thus, all the rescue work is being conducted manually, as no vehicles or earth movers can reach the spot.

National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) officials, police, along with locals, some trekkers and CIDCO employees and a few workers tried to rescue as many people as possible. Latest numbers state that around 16 dead bodies have been recovered, while over 100 have been saved from the debris. More than 100 are still feared to have been trapped. However, the rescue operation was stopped for the day after 4 pm as it was difficult to continue in the rainfall and dark.



“It is always difficult to conduct rescue operations in places as remote as these. The site is dangerous for the rescuers as well, as landslide usually remains active until it continues to rain. One of the markers of the same is the presence of mud in the water. Dead bodies often remain buried in the debris undiscovered in such cases, as it is impossible to recover the. However, while the rescue is difficult, prevention in such remote places is still very much possible,” Prabhune maintains.


Climate Change and Erratic Rainfall

A preliminary analysis by Satark stated that intense rainfall in a shorter period of time, which diminishes the capacity of the soil to hold any more water, leading to the mud sliding down the slope.

"The rain gauges in Khalapur and Karjat, both places in close proximity to the landslide spot, recorded a minimum of 600mm rainfall in just 72 hours. Visuals point to this being a 'mud flow' landslide," Satark said.

“With climate change, the intensity of rainfall in a shorter period of time is increasing. This, combined with the anthropological pressures lead to more instances of landslides. With time, people need to be more careful and vigilant of their surroundings, at least at such times,” said Dr Jeevan Prakash Kulkarni, retd. Scientist, who is now part of the Indian Meteorological Society (IMS).

However, he also asserts that government cooperation is necessary. “The government must take gram panchayats at hand to alert people in more landslide prone areas, so that loss of life in such situations can be prevented. It is not happening today,” he said.