The meeting was held at the Circuit House,
The following were present:-
a) Mr A Purkayastha (IAS), Principal Secretary (PS), Disaster Management, Govt of
b) Mr Rajesh Pande (IAS) District Magistrate (DM), Darjeeling District.
c) Mr A Lepcha (WBCS) Asst District Magistrate(ADM), Disaster Management, Darjeeling District.
d) Mrs Zimba (WBCS), ADM General, Darjeeling District.
e) Mrs Sunita Mishra (WBCS), SDO Sadar,
f) Wg Cdr Praful Rao (retd) – from “savethehills” (9832093746)
g) Mr Bishnu Chettri - from “savethehills” (9332044626)
h) Mr Roshan Rai- from “savethehills” (9932024812)
1) The meeting began at approx 1100hrs with the Principal Secretary (PS) stressing the importance of HAM radio stations in a disaster scenario where there would be a total breakdown of power and communication lines. In this regard he said that the entire district was under Earthquake Hazard Zone IV as such there was a need for carry out mock drills on disaster management. He asked the DM to look into how best HAM radios could be used in the district with the help of NGOs, in this situation. He also clearly stated that the rapid and unchecked growth of multistorey complexes in urban areas would only add to the disaster problem and therefore needs to be addressed.
2) Wg Cdr Praful Rao (retd), drew the attention of the PS and the DM to the landslide situation in Kalimpong by displaying a map of Kalimpong town and its vicinity, where landslide hazard zones were clearly marked. He asked the PS what measures were being adopted for prevention and mitigation of landslides in the future, stressing the need for training “jhoras”. He gave an example of Sindebung where untrained jhoras were doing immense damage and also mentioned Dr Graham’s Homes dispensary area as a critical landslide zone.
3) Other members of “savethehills” forum added information on landslides in the rural areas.
4) This was followed by a discussion regarding the lines of responsibility in disaster management, where the PS clearly stated that:-
a) Prevention of disaster was NOT the responsibility of the Disaster Management Department, Govt of West Bengal since so many of the concerned agencies/departments involved in prevention of landslides were not under him.
b) Under these circumstances he said that the Disaster Management Department could only act as a facilitating and coordinating agency within the many other departments that were engaged directly in preventive work against landslides.
c) The only direct action that his department could take regarding preparedness was through spreading of awareness about landslides and mock drills prior to disaster and then in relief action post disaster.
5) The DM asked the “savethehills” forum to deal directly with Chief Principal Secretary, Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), regarding the preventive measures against landslides since all the concerned departments were under DGHC.
6) The “savethehills” members apprised the PS and the DM about the dilemma this dual responsibility between the State Administration and DGHC was creating with regard to disaster management in the district.
7) The PS instructed the DM to ask the GSI or any other appropriate organization like the IITs to undertake a detailed survey of the landslide affected areas.
8) The meeting ended with “savethehills” forum being asked to collect as much data as was possible on landslides in the district, and passing it onto the DM for onward processing.
A letter stressing the necessity to shift the focus of disaster management from “relief-centric” and “post-event” response, to a regime that lays greater emphasis on preparedness, prevention and mitigation- as per the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh was handed over to the PS and DM by Wg Cdr Praful Rao (retd).
After the 45mins or so we spent at the meeting, what we from “savethehills” wondered was this:-
Just what did we achieve?
Having alerted the government about a possible disaster scenario in the hills, were we, as mere concerned citizens also expected to keep knocking on the doors of different govt /DGHC departments to find out just who would initiate preventive action against landslides?
- since THAT is hopefully, the essence of disaster management.