Eminent geologists and experts have expressed their anguish at the manner in which the Kalka-Shimla highway construction has taken place in an area that contained a vast geological history dating back millions of years, much of which is destroyed due to the destruction of mountain slopes.
Geologists say the loss of geological history, which was present along the Parwanoo-Solan stretch of this highway and which has been lost due to the road widening project, is irreparable.
“This area was a classic type section from Parwanoo to Shimla rich with the geological history of the Himalayas. All history could be seen in the rocks. We used to take students to show them this section. Now, they have built walls covering the rocks. Crucial evidence has been lost,” says Om Bhargava, an eminent geologist and former director at the Geological Survey of India. Bhargava is currently an honorary professor in the Department of Geology at Panjab University and an honorary scientist at the Indian National Science Academy (INSA).
He adds that critical proof of the change from marine basin to freshwater basin in the Subathu and Dagshai hill formations has been lost. A marine basin was formed when this area was the bed of a sea known as the Tethys Sea. The freshwater basin was formed when the sea receded and the area was instead awash with rivers, streams and lakes. These changes took place millions of years back, he says.
The Parwanoo-Solan stretch was widened from two lanes to four lanes for better connectivity between Shimla and other areas in Himachal Pradesh and was opened for public use in 2021. Several parts of the 40-km Parwanoo-Solan stretch were wrecked after the recent heavy rains.
“Our research had set at rest the controversy that there is a 10 million year break between Subathu and Dagshai hill formations. We found that there was not that much break and it may have been one or two million years. We saw evidence of that near Dharampur which is lost now. The transition from marine to freshwater basin could be seen vividly,” he says.
The veteran geologist also finds fault with the dumping of landslide waste in the valley which will end up in the Kaushalya river flowing nearby.
“The level of the river bed will increase because of this rock waste and it will cause flooding. This debris in the river will also act as a cutting tool and will cause more damage downstream during torrents,” says Bhargava.
Permanently hiding the geological wealth exposed in rock faces during highway development undermines the technical potential of engineering geology for sustainable and safe growth of our nation, says Arundeep Ahluwalia, former professor and head of the Geology Department of Panjab University.
“Hiding highway rock exposures behind splattered concrete or rock tiles across the highway now called ‘expressway’ is much worse than the landslides it intends to pre-empt. It forever denies coming generations any chance to study the long stretches of such highways and to the nature lovers in society the excitement of the history and grandeur of the earth,” he said.
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According to Ahluwalia ‘type road rock sections’ studied by geology students for centuries have been destroyed on this stretch of the road between Parwanoo and Solan and even the possibility of cataloguing newer sections and discoveries is eliminated. “The road expansion was an opportunity to survey geologically and also collect and curate newer discoveries but for that, the development had to be under the supervision of geologists and at their convenience,” he says.
The professor says that when Himalayan ecology and geo-heritage are at stake, societal discussion is a must on such projects. “An unimaginable flyover has come up in the hill slopes at Kumarhatti near Dagshai which again was an area of immense paleogene history. Common sense will tell anyone that these fat concrete pillars are too heavy to be geologically stable,” he says.
“They have put geology in coffins,” says Om Bhargava. They have encased geological treasures in concrete, adds Ahluwalia.