Monday, October 1, 2007

Alaichikhop's forgotten children

Alaichikhop straddles the underbelly of Kalimpong and comprises the entire place below the Arts and Craft Centre or the Macfarlane Memorial Church area(SLIDE 1). It has also been for many decades, the dumping ground for most, if not all of Kalimpong town's garbage.

On the 07 Sep2007, at around 5.30am the residents of this area heard a loud rumbling noise and with that the whole garbage dump exploded in a monstrous landslide, spewing maybe thousands of tonnes of filthy waste, mud and rocks into the valley below.
The deluge of junk literally swept away paddy fields, alaichi (cardamom) fields, trees and fertile farmland and is today a horrific morass of garbage(SLIDE2,3,&4). I talked to Mr KT Lepcha and Mrs Manmaya Rai(SLIDE 5) both of whom had lost precious farmland in the garbage slide. Apart from listening to them there was nothing I could do- except perhaps feel the same sense of helplessness and apprehension that unless something is done urgently- more disaster will follow in the years to come.
The impact of the landslide, as it crashed thru the valley was so great that many houses in the village have sustained structural damage, (SLIDE6&7); in fact like so many places that I have visited and seen, parts of the whole hill side in lower Alaichikhop are extensively cracked.
In this area I saw 3 abandoned houses, one to which the owner had tied a dog to guard a deserted tenement (SLIDE 8).
All the village folk from the abandoned houses today, live in the UKG section of Champamaya school at Upper Lamini Gaon, Alaichikhop- mercifully, World Vision(India), Dr Graham's School, Parnami Yuwa Trust Bhalukhop Farmer's Club and the Gram Panchayat have moved forward and offered assistance to these people...
Three weeks after the landslides, unknown to most in Kalimpong, there are 29 people still living in the school; many of them children-

Alaichikhop's forgotten children.

praful rao


Bharat Mani Pradhan said...

Great going Praful. I am with you in whatever a member of civil society needs to do.

sonambwangyal said...

Dear Praful,
It is sad that folks that matter are least bit interested. However, a local daily from Siliguri did run two stories on 03 Oct. 07. Hope that provides you some solace in this grim hour. Yes, f inally one print media wriggled into the fray. Hiamalayan Darpan, Nepali daily from Siliguri, on Wednesday, 3 October 2007, reported that their correspondent was faced with placards expressing Ailaichikhop people's suffering. The affected people expressed their ordeal, helplessness and frustration by saying. "First throw us (down the dumping ground) and then dump your garbage." In a sign of a remarkable demonstration, and a sarcasm that stands out like our mountains, many of the victims of the village have made temporary shelters on the same slip that destroyed their homes and robbed them of their small cultivable lands. The universal refrain seems to be a deep-seated angst against the government's failure to do anything in the past 26 days. It is not question of doing something or even a precious little: the villagers claim that "nothing" has been done despite the tragedy running into its fourth week. One Ratan Tamang questioned that when NGOs like Bhalukhop Disaster Development Committee, Salvation Army, Bhalukhop Krishak Sangh, Ramakrishna Mission and several other NGOs could come and in their limited resources try to ameliorate the suffering of the unfortunate, the government's effort draws a very unenviable, or should I say criminal, big clear blank. Tamang cheekily inquires, "When all these people can come and help us why is the government not coming, in which burrow is the government holed up?"

The danger was always lurking amidst the layers of trash heaped one upon another and the authorities were aware of it a long time ago. It appears that in 1980 the Sub-Divisional Officer had issued orders to have the dumping grounds shifted but nothing came of it, in all probability he did not put his foot down firmly enough, after all his sojourn is just for two years and why raise dust when Kalimpong can be a wonderfully protracted holiday if one does not plod the narrow or dusty path. Then in 1999 the Municipality Chairman, Shri C.K. Kumai had promised to dump Kalimpong's garbge at another site but nothing came of this also. We must forgive him for he is a politician and making and breaking promises is a politician's unabashed industry. We understand that. But like the proverbial sunrise, elections too will come around and the public should rub the lie on his face. If we don't do that then we don't have the right to crib or cry. What humiliates the aspirations of the public and also the lofty chair of the Assistant District Magistrate is that the on-going gentleman in the hot seat claimed ignorance of the entire matter. Congratulations! Nothing more need be said. Period.

As a footnote may I add that the journal also carried another story of a grievously distressed senior citizen, Januka Rai. She claims that she has lost her home and the land that sustained her family. She is firm that all this was not simply because of a natural calamity but basically because of the causes this blogspot has been highlighting so forcefully and eloquently. Januka grieves that not even a kilo of rice came from the government, not a single person from the administration came to investigate or enquire! She asserts that she is currently living on the dumping grounds since she has nowhere else to go and the government still has not any shown no signs of relocating her. In a final act of sheer desperation she threatens that if the government continues to remain apathetic she will commit suicide on the dumping grounds. Why? She answers, "Because, I do not have an alternative!" Does she have to actually die to get the arthritic bones of the administration into motion. We hope not because, in that case, it will not just be a disaster for Januka, it might become a bigger disaster for the administration.