Thursday, November 8, 2007

A personal perspective

So we have finally hit the “Bureaucratic Wall”, which is near impossible to penetrate ! Congratulations to all of us! This should give us more impetus to break the wall down.

Dushera celebrations are just over, but the bright lights of Dewali are round the bend. The yawning cracks on the roads have been filled up and the fresh scars of the recent landslides are now covered with greenery. The blue skies are back again but political turmoil is silently brewing, threatening to disturb the peace and tranquility of the hills. Tourists who had come to enjoy the beauty of our hills are fleeing and potential tourists have cancelled their bookings. Politicians and their henchmen are busy sharpening their blunt khukuris and the poor common man in the streets and villages, surrounded by insecurity and uncertainty, is confused, worried and wondering from where his next meal will come from! In the midst of all these quick developments, the scary landslides of September 2007 have all but been forgotten!

The great philosopher George Bernhard Shaw had once said – “We learn from history that we don’t learn anything from history!” Me thinks that he is absolutely right. We seem to be a cursed lot, going round and round in endless circles of domination, damnation and doom! Isn’t it a shame that after 60 years of India’s Independence, we are still finding ourselves in “Square One” – groping hopelessly in the dark!

Sorry for the emotional outburst – but I think every one of us feel that way. Coming back to the landslides, I strongly feel that, frustrating as it is, we must not give up. I would like to suggest the following strategy :

1.We must recognize that at the present juncture, we cannot expect anything concrete, or anything at all, from the State Government, Central Government, DGHC, Municipalities and other such Agencies and Departments. They will only be passing the buck and sending us out on a wild goose chase.
2.God helps those who help themselves. Right now, nobody from outside will be willing to stick out his or her neck and spend time and energy to genuinely understand our problems and help us out. If at all they will be speaking from the mouth and not from their hearts, as they are not the affected persons or stakeholders. We will have to help ourselves.
3.Disaster management in Landslides is a relatively new field, unlike floods and earthquakes. Not much is known technically about landslides, why they happen and what can be done to prevent them. This is perhaps why only some relief and no remedial measures have been taken by the Governments. So we will have to undertake some pioneering works (from the actual fields or from the Net and other sources) and feed the data to our Governments who are perhaps the only ones who can take large-scale preventive measures. Of course, the Governments and their various Departments and Agencies should be taking the proactive lead in advance, rather than waiting for disasters to happen first and thereafter acting on ham-radio messages seeking help (this is a ridiculous proposition)! But over the years, we as members of the public have not played a positive role and are ourselves to blame - because of which we get the Governments we deserve!
4.We must realize that there cannot be a simple solution to very complex technical problems that involve landslide prevention. Over and above this, we also have to face other nagging difficulties like Dual Control of Administration by State Government and DGHC; Political disturbances caused by warring factions, leading to nowhere; frustrated or unconcerned Government officials passing the buck; massive financial constraints and what have you!
So we cannot expect miracles to happen overnight – it is going to be a long drawn deliberate problem solving process, with multifaceted dimensions.

5.The “savethehills” blogsite has already played a major role in creating awareness and will continue to attract many more useful comments from all over. I think we should now form a Core Group of smart, concerned people from appropriate fields and have regular “Brain-Storming Sessions BSS” at least once a week focusing on Landslide Prevention – we badly need a Geologist though. We must prepare a Comprehensive Report as early as possible, that will indicate possible short, medium and long-term solutions. A nephew of mine hailing from Kalimpong, Pawan Pradhan, is Director of Technology Applications & Integration, SKIDATA Inc in the USA. He is willing to extend whatever help he can and participate in this great venture.

6.We must hold on to His Excellency, the Governor of West Bengal Mr. Gandhi, who will certainly lend us full support to push through this vital Project for saving our fragile hill areas. We can move through him and take his guidance.

Mr U.M. Pradhan,

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