SaveTheHills(STH) is a group of concerned citizens who are raising awareness about landslides in Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya.
Many landslides are the direct or indirect result of human interference and preventable if sufficient care is taken.
As such, unless we begin a comprehensive and sustained program towards landslide management, prevention and mitigation, the consequences of ignoring years of human callousness will, in the future be devastating.
'A low pressure area has
formed over northwest and adjoining
westcentral Bay of Bengal and coastal
areas of Odisha. Associated upper air cyclonic circulation extends upto 7.6 km above mean sea level tilting southwestwards with height'
Comment by Praful Rao
On 07Sep2013, Dr Prannoy Roy of NDTV hosted a talk show with many luminaries and experts in Disaster Management, captioned 'Is India ready for the next big disaster?'; almost exactly a year on, we have the answer to that question in Srinagar and Kashmir.
Incidentally, in response to a discussion during the show, that TV channels could easily issue targeted early warning (EW) broadcasts in local dialect to communities likely to be affected by extreme weather events, I made a number of requests to NDTV, NDMA and TISS (all participants in the show) for trials of such EW broadcasts to be conducted in Darjeeling district before the onset of the 2014 monsoons - since we are after all, in one of the most landslide prone regions in the country.
No one responded.
IMetD clamped a 'heavy rainfall warning' in the Sub-Himalayan West Bengal (SHWB) and Sikkim region for much of Aug2014 even though there was no major activity in the Bay of Bengal (we plotted two low pressure areas 1 and 2, during the month).
In Kalimpong, we experienced some of the soggiest and damp days thus far in 2014 even as the periods of heavy rainfall was limited to just 3 days. The heaviest rainfall during Aug2014 was along the plains of Dooars and even Siliguri with the mountainous region receiving considerably less rain.
There were no reports of major landslides in this region.
in India - The Urgency of Fresh Thinking
Swami Vivekananda once visited a great sage of our country,
a very holy man and wrote: “We talked about our revered book- the Vedas, of
your Bible, of the Koran, and of the revered books in general. At the close of
our talk, this great sage asked me to go to the table and take-up the book; it
was a book, which, among other things, contained a forecast of the rainfall
during the year. The sage said, Read them. And I read out the quantity of rain
that was to fall. He said, now take the book and squeeze it. I did so and he
said, why my boy, not a drop of water comes out. Until the water comes out, it
is all book, book.”
This is also the story of disaster management in India. We
have a National Disaster Management Act, a National Disaster Management Authority
with the Prime Minister of India as its Chief, a country wide disaster
management apparatus, an impressive array of knowledge institutions, a full
fledged National Institute of Disaster Management and an over stocked library
of Guidelines, Plans, SOP’s and Office orders. It is time we squeeze them all
to count the drops! We have definitely progressed but we have a very long way
By the very nature of the challenge, the road to disaster
management has always been under construction and will remain so in the future
as well. It has long been realized that the road begins from the territory of
policy formulation, but the results will begin to trickle in only the day we
come out of the comfort-zone of the business as usual and bridge the gap between
our scientific and operating tempers and between the plan and its
implementation. In our straight –jacket style of functioning, we get easily
swayed when we see a logical, demand based approach to project identification,
a scholarly written feasibility report tuned to environmental sensitivities,
and a convincing environmental impact assessment. An exclusive chapter on
Integration of disaster risk reduction with the project planning makes us feel
that now is the time to take a break and hope for the things to happen on their
own, as we had planned. Have we ever thought whether it is the right road that
would lead us to the freedom from disasters?
Only one road can lead us to freedom from disasters and that
is the road passing through the culture of safety to be travelled in the
vehicle of non-violence with a deep sense of commitment to posterity. I have
lost no chance to express myself by repeating Antoine de Saint Exupéry‘s words:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up men to collect wood and don’t assign
them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of
The real world of disasters is far more complex than we can
singly or collectively imagine. In the real world, we can be only as successful
as our ability to foresee multiple scenarios of hazards, vulnerability and
risk. For decades, we have been in the business of making hazard maps and
printing atlases. Let us squeeze and stir all our hazard maps and atlases, and
count the drops. Sorry, we will have to wait until someone more serious and
scientific places the first, validated and user-friendly hazard map into our
hands. And imagine, if we can’t reliably anticipate the hazards before they
strike, how can we ever prevent them from happening?
We are a democratic country and in order to appear
democratic, we are perpetually engaged in discussion and planning, that leaves
us without much time to spare for implementation of plans. According to Netaji
Subhas Chandra Bose, “no real change in the history has ever been achieved by
discussion.” But his words did not suit our way of life. Discussion per se is
not bad, but when it comes to managing disasters, we have seen our plans
getting bogged down in the quicksand of endless discussion and become stale on
its way to the printing press. It is said that the devil is in the detail and
yet we prefer to ignore details and instead face the wrath of the devil. On the
other extreme are our people who would not move an inch beyond discussion
because of the paucity of data or absence of consensus. ” Reality is, after
all, too big for our frail understanding to fully comprehend. Nevertheless, we
have to build our life on the theory which contains maximum truth. We cannot
sit still because we cannot, or do not know the absolute truth,”said Netaji
Subhas Chandra Bose. “The finest of the plans are always ruined by the
littleness of those who ought to carry them out, for the Emperors can actually
do nothing”, said Bertolt Brecht.1
The use of clever or dishonest methods (chicanery) and sugar-coated
populist approaches have hurt us a great deal. Non transparent approaches in
the investigation and knee-jerk reporting often sully the disaster case records
and bury the truth deeper. We were taught in the classroom to walk slowly when
in a hurry. But in the race for supremacy in reporting, we fancy reporting as
we walk and document as we talk. As Richard Bach has said, “The world is your
exercise book, the pages on which you do your sums. It is not reality, though
you may express reality there if you wish. You are also free to write lies, or
nonsense, or to tear the pages.”2 But by not being honest, are we not robbing
the future generations of the awe inspiring grandeur of nature’s exposition? By
ignoring proof, logic and science, are we not ignoring our own future? Are we
not increasingly getting identified as the generation of editors rather than of
From the Italian proverb “Alexander never did what he said
and Caesar never said what he did”, we infer that disaster managers are generally
seen to play Alexander’s role for the wrong reason. This is because of the
Hobson’s choice managers face in dealing with disaster scenarios as they
unfold, bearing little or no resemblance to those about which they had spoken.
We have to create systems in which our actions speak louder than our words and
we will feel free to act as Caesar did. Only when we will have the courage and
humility to confess that our plans were useless scraps of paper as testified by
the recent tragedies, that we will justifiably get license to plan. Einstein
once said, “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which
differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are ever
incapable of forming such opinions.” He further adds that, “we cannot solve the
problems we have created with the same thinking that created them”. And,
according to John Maynard Keynes, “Difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in
escaping the old ones.”
We have long been working with an ill-defined disaster
management strategy conceived in a comfort zone, reducing one of the most
challenging tasks to a hectic exercise in relief and response. With the advent
of the National Disaster Management Act of 2005 came the hope that the world
around us would begin to change from then onwards. We had hoped to see more of
prevention and mitigation, more of the culture of scientific scrutiny and
technological innovation, and more of an action than speeches. We seek
development, but what value is that development which fuel disasters and takes
us back to the zero-sum game? It is no choice, if we are asked to choose our
day between 12 hours of pain followed by 12 hours of pleasure, or for 12 hours
of pleasure followed with 12 hours of pain!
“There was an old owl, who lived in an Oak. The more he
heard, the less he spoke. The less he spoke, more he heard. O, if men were like
that wise old bird.”3 The time has come when speeches can wait and the endless
engagement with the design of wings can end. All we need is a vision, a sense
of direction and a will to succeed. “If a man does not know to what port he is
steering, no wind is favourable to him.” 4 Let us recall Ray Bradbury, who said
that, “You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on your
Please listen, the last of the sparrow or sterling, which
wants to fly to freedom from disasters is watching our movies! And as Martin
Luther King, Jr, has said, “Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see
the whole staircase, just take the first step.” Endnotes
Bertolt Brecht in Mother Courage, 1939.
Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant
Cited from Punch.
- Prof RK Bhandari is a distinguished alumnus from IIT Mumbai, a Fellow of Indian National
Academy of Engineering and a recipient of the coveted Varne’s Medal for Excellence in Research and Practice of Landslides.
Other articles by Dr Bhandari are placed at 1 and 2
After a quiescent period stretching almost the entire month of Aug2014, when there was virtually no activity in the Bay of Bengal, IMetD is reporting the formation of a low pressure area in the " west central and adjoining north west Bay of Bengal off north Andhra Pradesh south Odisha "
We will post updates as necessary.
All rainfall figures quoted above are from IMetD except for Kalimpong and Darjeeling (which are from STH rain gauges) In Kalimpong, the precipitation was heaviest in thundershowers between 1.00am to approx 2.15am on 26Aug2014. As is evident from the rainfall data, the heaviest rainfall took place along the plains of the Dooars with the mountainous regions actually receiving much less rain as such no major landslides were reported.
For more on the rainfall read here.
- The axis of monsoon trough at mean sea level continues to run close to the foothills
- The trough extends from Sub-Himalayan West Bengal and Sikkim to northeast Bay of Bengal across Bangladesh between 2.1 and 4.5 km above mean sea level persists
All this, in short means, is that a band of low pressure is almost stationary over the Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya and is resulting in continuous moisture feed to this area - which means more heavy rain in this region.
The clouding in the IR satellite imagery of 0500h IST is consistent with this and at 0630h (22Aug2014) it is raining cats and dogs here in Kalimpong.
Transcript (excerpt) of BBC weather bulletin of Monday, 18 Aug2014(23:57 UTC)
“The main focus of storms – north east India, northern parts of Bangladesh and eastern parts of Nepal.... The rainfall suppressed a little bit on Wed and Thursday but there are signs that we could see it (the rainfall) intensifying further and through the coming days, taking us into the week we could see as much as 90cm of fresh rain around this sort of region which will of course cause widespread flooding....”
Excerpt from IMetD All India Weather Bulletin (19Aug2014-midday)
Meteorological Analysis (based on 0830 hours IST)
· The axis of monsoon trough at mean sea level runs close to the foothills of Himalayas.
· The upper air cyclonic circulation over northern parts of West Bengal and Sikkim
and neighbourhood has become less marked. However, a trough extends from SubHimalayan West Bengal; Sikkim to south Chhattisgarh across Bihar extends upto 1.5 km above mean sea level.
Weather Warning during next 3 days (IMetD) 19 August (Day 1): Heavy to very heavy rainfall would occur at isolated places over South Interior
Heavy rainfall would occur at isolated places over Assam; Meghalaya,
Arunachal Pradesh, Tamilnadu;
Puducherry and Lakshadweep. 20 August (Day 2):
Heavy rainfall would occur at isolated places over Sub
Himalayan West Bengal; Sikkim, Assam; Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Tamilnadu; Puducherry, North Interior Karnataka,
South Interior Karnataka and Lakshadweep. 21 August (Day 3):
Heavy to very heavy rainfall would occur at isolated places over Sub
Himalayan West Bengal; Sikkim.
Slide 1 shows past 7days of rainfall in India from TRMM.
Slide 2 shows potential landslide sites also from TRMM.
For anyone interested, the normal rainfall for the whole of July in Sub-Himalayan West Bengal and Sikkim is around 61cm. If the forecast is correct, this region could receive one and half times that rain (ie 90cm) in the next couple of days.
This should be a cause for concern to all of us in the region and the intent of this post is to make people aware and prepared - without causing panic.
Recording rainfall statistics for use by researchers, the farming community and by those who work in hydrological disasters has long been one of the aims of STH and towards this end we procured and positioned automatic rainfall gauges in several places in Darjeeling district and Sikkim. Data from these instruments is regularly posted on our blog all through the monsoon months since 2011.
Unfortunately, some of these instruments have become defective and we decided to replace these with the sturdy Symon's type manual rainfall gauges which are a lot cheaper too. I put up the proposal to procure these instruments for use by the farming community to Mr Bishnu Chhetri, General Secretary of Kalimpong Krishak Kalyan Sangathan who readily agreed to the proposal.
On 02Aug2014, after a talk in the KKKS hall, Kalimpong, aimed at standardizing use and recording of rainfall at all stations, 10 manual rainfall gauges were handed over to members of Krishak Kalyan Sangathan at the following villages of Darjeeling district :-
1. Towday 2.Gitdabling 3. Pabringtar 4. Payung 5. Echay 6. Lama Hatta 7. Kolbung
8. Mangwa 9. Singail (Kurseong) 10. Pokhriabung
We hope to include data from these stations in our blog from Sep2014.
Further, many NGOs from this region have requested that we procure these gauges for them also and so in time to come we may have a comprehensive network of instruments to map the rainfall of this region.
Deficient rainfall in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya
As can be seen from the rainfall data of some stations of the region (slide -1) there was an overall deficiency in the amount of rainfall in the month of Jul2014. The monsoon rainfall normally peaks in July (see here) before starting to decline in Aug/Sep and withdrawing from the sub-continent in Oct.
However, in 2014 rainfall in Kalimpong was almost 40% deficient resulting in inability by farmers to plant the full paddy crop this year in some parts of Pudung village (Kalimpong). All other stations also show decline in rainfall in 2014 to varying degrees.
This is in keeping with the data obtained from IMD in slide -2 (see details here). Landslide activity
No major landslides and no deaths due to landslides in Darjeeling or Sikkim in July2014.
Malin village in Maharastra, India - 151deaths due to landslide on 30Jul2014.
Pangla, on Dharchula-Kailash Mansarovar yatra, in Pithoragarh district - 5 deaths on 27July2014