Wednesday, December 12, 2007

FAX to the Chief Minister, West Bengal (sent under a covering note on 11Dec2007)

Landslide hazard Darjeeling District : Points for consideration/implementation

The monsoons this year have caused tremendous damage in the hills of Darjeeling district. Though the documentation is by no means complete, a record of some of the devastation caused is available at both in terms of photographs as well as reports.

The Prime Minister in his inaugural address in the first Disaster Management Congress, New Delhi in Nov2006 spoke of the need to shift the focus of disaster management from a “relief-centric” and “post-event” response to “a regime that lays greater emphasis on preparedness, prevention and mitigation”.

In keeping with this and also the fact that this area is the most landslide prone in the country (as per GSI) and lies in zone IV of the earthquake hazard zone, we at “savethehills” (a group of concerned citizens in Darjeeling district), feel that preventive and mitigation action against landslides needs to be accelerated so as to minimize loss of life and property in the future. At the same time, post disaster management plans/methods should look towards managing a large scale disaster in mountainous terrain during the monsoons since the possibility of a super cyclone (such as SIDR in Nov2007) striking this area cannot be ignored.

In this regard, we would like to bring to your notice the following:-

1. Necessity of correcting an anomaly

It was apparent from our meeting with some state Govt officials, that in Darjeeling District, both the State Govt and DGHC were jointly in charge of disaster management. We were informed, that prevention of disaster was NOT the responsibility of the District Magistrate since many of the departments concerned with preventive work were not under him.

This is contrary to the Disaster Management Act 2005 Chapter IV (District Disaster Management Authority) Para 30 (Powers and Functions of District Authority) and needs to be addressed immediately.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: - A single nodal body may be identified in the district which is empowered to take ALL necessary action to deal with natural disaster in its entirety.

2. Urgent need to identify Critical Landslide Hazard Areas and carry out preventive action.

During the surveys carried out, we observed that some populated areas were in such a deteriorated condition that they would certainly collapse in heavy, incessant rain as can be expected in the next monsoons. Such areas need to be identified urgently and necessary work carried out on a war footing so as to mitigate or prevent landslides in such locations. This short term preventive work would mainly consist of repairing/ changing/ strengthening of the jhoras (mountain rivulets) and drainage system in these areas.

Drainage and jhora management is understandably a massive project which will require dedicated work on a long term basis also, besides requiring huge financial expenditure. An inventory (supported by mapping) of jhoras needs to be made and repair work prioritized since much of the landslide problem in 2007 arose from inadequate, antiquated and neglected drainage system (inclusive of jhoras) which could simply not handle the high volumes of water flowing in from the hugely increased/expanded urban areas. Since the survival of a large number of people in the district depends on tackling the drainage problem, the sooner this is done the better.

Also this would be wholly in keeping with the provisions of the Disaster Management Act 2005 Chapter IV (District Disaster Management Authority) Para 30, 31 (Powers and Functions of District Authority and District plan).

3. Mid term and Long term Preventive Action.

Besides these firefighting measures, mid term and long term preventive action also needs to be taken order to reduce soil erosion and landslides in the hills. Systematic soil mapping surveys in the district maybe undertaken and experts from such organizations as GSI or IITs may be brought in to suggest mid and long term solutions to the landslide problem which would then have to be implemented without fail.

4. Important Points requiring Attention.

We, at “savethehills” have discussed landslides and disaster management extensively since Sep2007, and the many points that have emerged as regards the possible causes and solutions are already documented at

Some of these in brief are:-

a) Relocation of people from vulnerable areas

Though a thorny and difficult subject to handle, this will be necessary in the future.

As such vulnerable zones maybe identified and further construction of settlements in these areas stopped forthwith, also contingency plans for relocating people from these areas (if not already available) maybe drawn up. Otherwise we will be faced with the problem of having large numbers of climate refugees in the future.

b) Development of satellite townships

Our major towns are highly overcrowded with no land available for further growth and population pressure adds to the landslide hazards in these towns by increasing illegal construction and construction in landslide prone areas. Therefore, there is an urgent necessity to develop satellite townships to reduce the population pressure on the main towns. These maybe planned in unpopulated khasmal areas, defunct tea gardens, wasteland or by sheer necessity, in land under the forest dept.

c) Checking of unplanned urban growth and abiding with regulations

It is unfortunate that though regulations are in place regarding height of buildings, soil testing, road construction and so on; scant attention has been paid to any of these, resulting in unplanned and rampant urban growth.

Whereas it may not be possible to reverse this, it is possible to prevent further damage by strictly enforcing regulations and imposing fines/ resorting to legal action against all those who flout these rules.

In this regard, no construction should be permitted in slopes of 40 degrees or more.

d) Afforestation plans

Afforestation programs needs to be pursued vigorously especially in denuded areas (to reverse the loss of forest cover to the maximum extent possible). In this regard it was observed that bamboo groves were a major contributor towards landslides in 2007 as such planting alternative and appropriate types of deep rooted trees must be undertaken in landslide prone areas.

e) Inclusion of Darjeeling district in all natural disaster surveys undertaken in Sikkim.

In Nov2007 a high level Central Team toured Sikkim to assess the damage caused by the rains in Sep (in response to a request made to the Prime Minister by the CM, Mr P Chamling). Though Darjeeling district is contiguous to it and a part of the same geographical area no damage assessment was carried out here even though in all probability the damage if equal to if not greater than in Sikkim. The monsoons punish Sikkim and the Darjeeling hills equally, hence damage assessments and repair work must also be identical.

f) Increase of compensation for loss of home/ life and payment without delay.

The present rate of compensation paid for loss (damaged to house 2000/-; total loss of home - 4000/- etc) due to natural calamity is totally inadequate and needs to enhanced substantially. Also compensation is often paid after much delay and harassment; this must stop forthwith and loss must be compensated as soon as possible.

g) Compensation for loss of land to farmers.

A major difference between floods and landslides is that in the former, the victims after the waters recede can return to their land; whereas in landslides there is often nothing to return to. Farmers who have lost their land in slides may therefore be adequately compensated with land since they depend on it for sustenance.

h) Installation of Early Warning System against landslides

The Centre for Disaster Management at Vellore has developed several schemes for early warning against landslides; since this area is the most landslide prone in the country it naturally follows that landslide prediction equipment should be installed and manned by qualified personnel in the most hazardous and heavily populated areas of our towns before the next monsoons.

j) Reducing landslide hazards in the vicinity of new road construction sites.

Newly constructed roads were observed as the source of many fresh landslides as such bringing new roads plans under the purview of environment impact assessment (EIA) maybe considered.

k) Necessity of Awareness Programs

Landslides in the hills are largely caused by man interacting with nature. One of the key long term solutions will be raising public awareness regarding causes of landslides, necessity of afforestation and so on. The Govt together with NGOs should play a leading role in this field.

In this regard the nearest GSI office (at Gangtok) maybe tasked with the responsibility of holding landslide workshops in Darjeeling district at frequent intervals.

l) Transparency in fund utilization

Preventive work against landslides will undoubtedly involve huge expenditure. Corruption if unchecked will lead to poor quality of work which in turn will result in loss of life and property. It is therefore necessary to have stringent checks in place to minimize corruption and to ensure funds are utilized correctly, since our very survival in the hills will depend on these measures being taken.
In this regard, the administration would inspire public confidence if regular press releases were given as regards the progress of preventive measures being taken or completed.

Inclusion of prominent citizens / NGOs or representative from social organizations from the planning to execution stage of preventive measures being taken would also go a long way to increasing transparency as regards proper fund utilization.

m) NGO participation in Landslide Surveys

Landslides often take place in remote areas which may not come to the notice of the Government machinery. In order to get a more accurate assessment of the situation, local people/ NGOs who are familiar with the terrain or region must be co-opted with teams carrying landslide surveys.

n) Checking the inventory of Relief Materials supplied to make it specific to Landslides in Mountainous Terrain.

Relief material doled out during the landslides of Sep2007 were inadequate and in some cases inappropriate. Whereas strict measures would be required to ensure that relief reached deserving, affected people, the inventory of relief materials needs to be checked to ensure that warm clothing (instead of clothes meant for flood affected areas in the plains) and rations (to last at least a week) are included along with other relief material such as plastic sheets/tarpaulin.

o) Periodic check of Efficacy of Preventive/Relief measures at the Sub-Division Level

If not already being done, SDOs maybe directed to check the efficacy of preventive and relief measures periodically all through the year. This, in the pre monsoons could amount to checking the progress of cleaning, clearing blockages in the drainage system, taking stock of relief materials etc and in the post monsoon period it could assess the efficacy/ lacunae of the preventive/relief measures taken with a view to improve on these. Detail checklists maybe drawn up and municipal authorities, NGOs and social organizations may be included in the meetings.

praful rao

1 comment:

Marcus said...

Hello, whoever reads this. I read a small article that someone wrote in small newspaper in Kalimpong and i was stunned with a sudden burden to help with this problem. I had a couple of thoughts. maybe there are some practical things that can happen, that doesnt need government action to be taken. there could be a day dedicated to cleaning out the trash in the that when the monsoons come, at least there will be some kind of drainage...

also, I was thinking, if trees need to be planted in landslide areas, why dont seedlings be collected, or some trees be grafted, or something to begin to obtain a good amount of trees and then they get planted

also, I heard that the right types of mushrooms are a good source for helping with erossion and they act as a natural filter to stop pollution going into rivers

ok..hope this helps some. I am willing to help