Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Before and After Sep2007

Pala river was a very picturesque area and a favorite picnic spot for many.
That was before Sep2007.
The deluge of that period has all but cleaned out the greenery from the river banks which now consist mostly of sand and boulders.
And so it is with the Relli river and I am sure with many other rivulets which are a part of the landscape.
But on checking with a meteorologist, I am told that there was nothing unusual with the monsoons this year and that most probably it will be the same in the years ahead.

I just hope that it isn't so.

praful rao

Monday, October 29, 2007

An excerpt from the official website of the Darjeeling District Administration

"Possible causes of Landslide hazards in the Darjeeling Hill Areas

1.The trends of evolution or rising of young mountains is the basic reasons for frequent landslide hazards in the Himalayan region. This includes unstable geological structure, tectonic disturbances, parallel subsidence of Himalayan fore deep of slopes.

2. Soil erosion and its conservation play an important role in the hill areas. Because of the presence of very thin soil cover plays an important role in the socio economic development of the hills and its people. All India Soil and Land use Survey under the Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India had carried out studies in some specified watershed areas. Otherwise, no systematic soil mapping has been carried out in the region. As such, there is no database, of how much soil cover has been destroyed.

3. The soils of Darjeeling hill areas have developed mainly Darjeeling gneiss, schists and Phyllites. Due to heavy deforestation and excessive cultivation of root crops like ginger, potatoes, onions, cardamoms etc. the extent of soil erosion has increased considerably in the recent times. It is a fact that the entire Darjeeling hill areas do not get any soil deposition. Deposition of soil is only found in the river valleys. Thus, the prevention of soil erosion and conservation of soil is very necessary in the hills.

4. By examining the land use pattern and changing characteristics since the last 150 years, it may be commented that the forest cover is in a precarious condition due to the rapid increase in cultivated land (with the exception of tea gardens), expansion of settlements, construction of roads. The rapid depletion of forest cover is noticeable in the tea plantation area. In most of the tea gardens in the hills, any type of shade tree or trees along the fringe line of the garden for the protection of the soil is more or less insignificant.

5. Rapid expansion of settlements and towns especially along the roads is one of the important causes of frequent landslide hazards in the hills. Multi storied buildings without proper planning along the roads and on the steeper slope increase the load on the already deteriorated slopes.

6. In the rural and inaccessible high hills. Demand for fuel is another important factor, which may be treated as an important cause for slope failure. Unscientific mining of low energetic coal seams and illegal felling of trees to meet the demand of firewood is practically unavoidable in the hills.

7. During the last 2 decades there has been an unprecedented growth of population in the hill areas, especially in the towns. The explosion has been followed by the rapid increase in vehicular movements. The continuous horizontal vibration along the roads gradually destabilizes the already unstable slopes and geological formations.

8. Lastly the demand of water for domestic and commercial purposes has also increased. The forest clearance, dissection of the upper portions of the slopes are reflected in the decrease in ground water level and consequent drying up of the streams during most part of the year.

9. Examining the above mentioned analysis, the future of the Darjeeling hill areas does not look very bright. Systematic and scientific utilization/management of the natural resources is required."

(The excerpt is taken from http://darjeeling.gov.in/geography.html)

I, for one, was surprised to see this rather frank analysis in the district administration's website ,which in this age of the RTI , is just as well. The point which keeps buzzing inside my head however is this: whereas it is a revelation of sorts for the Govt to point out that the future of the Darjeeling hill areas is "not very bright", just what are THEY, the DGHC , and perhaps most importantly WE the people, doing about it?

Perhaps this only makes something like "savethehills" more pertinent and necessary.

praful rao

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The tiny blue blob and a haunting question

For the inquisitive, the map and much more is available here (http://www.gsi.gov.in/lndslde/lhs.htm) and the tiny blue blob is where all of us in Darjeeling district and much of Sikkim live.
Unfortunately for us, the blue color denotes areas which are "very high landslide hazard zones" (as per GSI, the nodal agency for landslide hazard studies in the country).....

So to combat this "very high hazard"; we should also have a "very high" level of preparedness...

the question is :-

do we?

Friday, October 26, 2007

How to commit suicide (2)- the Darjeeling chapter

Darjeeling and her WASTE

Darjeeling town has a history, which starts in the latter part of the 1800s when the colonial British developed her as a summer capital. She was not only developed as a summer capital but also as the centre of British interests in tea. It is said that when the British first landed in Darjeeling there was just 16 houses in the Darjeeling Spur.

The core 5 km radius of the Darjeeling Municipality with all its amenities of water, sanitation, housing and offices was planned and developed in the 1930s for approximately 20000 to 30000 people.
Today, the town has grown beyond the core 5 km radius to an area of 7.83 sq km and extends from Jorebunglow to Ging Bazar divided into 32 wards and has a population of 1,03,379 (1991 census). The physical area of the town of 7.83 sq km is an administrative boundary, in reality the socio-ecological boundary extends much beyond the defined area. The growth has been unplanned and the amenities developed in the 1930s are still used to cover the lakhs in the town today.

Darjeeling Municipality today is divided into 32 wards. 30 metric tones of waste is generated in the Darjeeling Municipality daily. This average goes up to 45 metric tones a day in the peak tourist season.

The solid waste management practice adopted today is unhygienic and unscientific causing tremendous problems of health and environment not only to Darjeeling Municipality but also people living down stream.

With the dramatic increase in population and changing consumption patterns, Darjeeling is facing immense problems of waste management. The existing systems of waste management is technically unscientific and infrastructural insufficient to manage the waste. This has resulted in the piling up of waste all over town in vats, street corners and in the jhoras or water ways. All the waste without treatment is dumped into the “dumping chute”. The waste dumped eventually flows into the River Rungeet a tributary of River Teesta, while flowing through a number of communities.

Rotting waste lying about in streets and jhoras has created an unhealthy environment in Darjeeling. With the increasing fast moving consumer durables non-biodegradable packing material, one sees increasing packing material along with the rotting bio-degradable waste. The flies and street dogs population is shooting up. One has even started seeing mosquitoes in the Darjeeling town which was not seen even 10 years ago. The practice of dumping waste into waterways and streams might have been acceptable before the advent of mass non-biodegradable material, but today, plastic packing material, bottles are choking water ways which has resulted in landslides in Darjeeling.


  • MY CLEANLINESS is all that matters!
  • ROLL DOWN the waste- somewhere, anywhere but OUT OF MY SIGHT!
  • WILL ACCOMMODATE SOME SMELL AND SIGHT as one cannot roll down the waste
  • BLAME GAME – everyone else except I am the cause of Darjeeling’s dirt.


Chief Seattle






Roshan Rai,
DLR Prerna c/o Hayden Hall Complex,

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Attention : State administration and DGHC

The first Disaster Management Congress in India (organized by the National Institute of Disaster Management) was held in New Delhi between 29-30Nov last year. The function was inaugurated by the PM Dr Manmohan Singh.
Placed below is an excerpt from his inaugural address:-

"I do believe that the time has come for a paradigm shift in disaster management from a “relief-centric” and “post-event” response, to a regime that lays greater emphasis on preparedness, prevention and mitigation.

Such an approach should place emphasis on improving early warning systems, ensuring the reach and efficacy of dissemination, creating awareness and building capacities at all levels of public administration. I am, therefore, very happy that the draft National Policy on Disaster Management, places great emphasis on efficient management of disasters, rather than only focus on immediate response to disasters.

I must emphasise here that our disaster management administration is an integral part of overall administration. We cannot improve the quality of disaster management in isolation. Nor should we create parallel structures at the cost of regular administration. An improvement in disaster management has to be an integral part of the improvement in governance at all levels, especially in district administration. What we need are better support structures, which can make our responses to disasters more efficient, more rapid and more effective.

I must also add that disaster management should also be humane, apart from being efficient. Such a humane policy must pay due attention to the needs of children, senior citizens, women, disabled persons and weaker sections of society. Equally, it must be based on ensuring that in a post-disaster situation, the affected communities can be assured sustainable livelihoods, and they are assured of a reduced vulnerability to future disasters. Accountability, people’s participation, predictability and transparency will, therefore, have to be key features of such a policy."

What we, at "savethehills", want is the PM's words to be implemented in disaster management in the hills, so that it becomes more proactive rather than reactive.

praful rao

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Report :- Pashyore , another village in peril

To those interested , Pashyore bustee (village) is in Kalimpong subdivision, somewhere below Chibo bustee and above the Teesta.
A local guide (Mr Pradip Chetrri) took me to the most affected areas...
There are extensive and huge cracks all through parts Pashyore village and even though the whole area inclusive of Chibo falls into the so called "sinking area", a villager in Pashyore whom I spoke to (Kumar Thapa) swore he had never experienced this sort of devastation earlier in his 44 yrs.

The point is, these cracks on the mountains have appeared in Pashyore, Dalapchand, Kankebung, Bhalukhop, Alaichikhop, Sherpa gaon, Chibo, Dhong dara and probably in so many other places I have not visited....

are the mountains trying to tell us something?

I think it is time we listened.

praful rao

Monday, October 22, 2007

How to commit suicide (1)

Compare what we have (ie the photo above), with what is recommended:-

Placed below is an extract from the National Institute on Disaster Management website (http://www.nidm.net/Landslides4.asp)

"Mitigatory Measures (against landslides)"

In general the chief mitigatory measures to be adopted for such (landslide prone) areas are

Drainage correction,
Proper land use measures,
Reforestation for the areas occupied by degraded vegetation and
Creation of awareness among local population.

The most important triggering mechanism for mass movements is the water infiltrating into the overburden during heavy rains and consequent increase in pore pressure within the overburden. When this happens in steep slopes the safety factor of the slope material gets considerably reduced causing it to move down."

Having said that, it is all too easy for us to blame the Govt or the Municipality for inaction but the bitter truth is that I have seen newly constructed box drains within the municipal limits being destroyed by callous dumping of stones, bricks and construction material by people like you and I.

What better way of committing suicide?

praful rao

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why I think the Govt (and the powers that be) should be concerned…

Consider this,

Supposing we are lucky AGAIN next year and in Oct2008 our hills come out totally unscathed from the monsoons. If no major landslides occur and there are negligible casualties or loss to property and the “silent” disaster of Sep2007 turns out to be nothing more than a bad dream...

( I have no doubt that all of us want it to be so, not only in 2008 but for the many, many years to come)

What then would happen to “savethehills”?

Well, at the most we maybe accused of being over enthusiastic zealots whose excessive apprehensions and concern, though well meaning, were based on unrealistic information and insufficient or incorrect data.

On the other hand, supposing we are not so lucky next year or in the few years ahead, and those mountains with yawning cracks or the villages which are on the verge of sliding down actually start moving during the monsoons, then..

What would happen to the all those who could have acted in time to prevent or mitigate such a premonition but did not?

Placed on this blogspot is a body of incriminating evidence (which has yet to be refuted, denied or challenged by any Govt agency or NGO) in terms of reports, writings and photographs which show what has happened to us, our homes, roads, jhoras and our mountains;

all pointing towards the fact that time is running out...

This should be reason enough for the Govt (and the powers that be) to be concerned, and more importantly, start acting...

praful rao

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A visit to 4 villages

Munthum, Kankebung, Yoke and Seokbir Khani are 4 villages approximately east of Kalimpong town, across the Relli river. I was up there on12Oct07 and spent a good 5 hrs walking around. In the time and resources available, I could visit much of Munthum, Kankebung and Seokbir Khani whereas my visit to Yoke was comparatively cursory. Local people of the area (Mr Dinesh Rai of Munthum, Mr Bimlal Poudyal of Kankebong, Mr Til Bahadur Rana and Mr Aiman Subba of Khani) accompanied and showed me areas where the Sep07 rains had caused the most damage. My report:-


Of the four villages Kankebung is certainly the most battered, even though perhaps because of a fatality there, Seokbir Khani was more in the news.

Extensive areas of paddy field and non arable land are cracked, sliding down or sinking in Kankebung and I met 3 farmers who had lost a total of at least 5 acres of land due to land slides or sinking land.

Landslides have also occurred in the close vicinity of Holy Cross School at Kankebung and the front porch of the school has also developed a crack. Many of the residents of Kankebung whom I talked to, were of the opinion that a major disaster would have occurred had the rains continued for 24hrs more; they were also apprehensive about the monsoons in the future since much of the land has gaping cracks and fissures.

In the first week of Sep07, seven homes (located in areas of imminent danger) were evacuated for several weeks and at least 10 big landslides have occurred in Kankebung.

Coincidentally, of the 4 villages which I toured, Kankebung has 8 jhoras (mountain rivulets), whereas the other three villages have 4 or less number of jhoras.

Menchi jhora which is on the border between Kankebung and Munthum is certainly the most destructive.

Suddenly a clear relationship is emerging between the devastation caused by rains and the number of untrained jhoras that we have.


In order of severity of damage suffered, this village seems to rank second. Though the number of sinking areas are less, they are certainly there.

Two major vertical cracks each approx 1km long have developed along the hillside in this area but villagers and erosion have covered up much of these fissures and they may be entirely invisible in the months to come . At least 3 major landslides have occurred in Munthum, but luckily these have not caused casualties.

As per local residents, there are 3 jhoras in this area.

Seokbir Khani

This area received all the media and govt attention undoubtedly due to the 2 deaths which occurred here (covered in the previous post).

At Khani, there are at least 3 areas where major land movements had started and cracks are visible in a paddy field and a hillside.

Seokbir Khani has 4 jhoras.


Much of Yoke seems to have been spared the devastation of the adjacent villages, however there is at least one big landslide in this area. Also, the effect of Relli river on the low lying areas of Yoke in the vicinity of these areas could not be ascertained.

praful rao

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Lest we forget - Seokbir Khani, one month later

On 07Sep07, Aiman Subba aged 34yrs was with his parents and wife at his home in Seokbir Khani- Kalimpong subdivision. It had been raining incessantly for the past week and at around 0930hrs, he noticed the land above his home crumbling towards his kitchen. He raised the alarm and shouted that a landslide was coming; he and his wife ran out to safer ground .
His father, a poor farmer ran to the goat shed in bid to take the few goats he had with him; his wife tried to help him...
the delay proved fatal
the mountain above the house came crashing down on the goat shed, killing the couple instantaneously.
I met a grim faced Aiman Subba and his wife in a tiny, smoke-filled kitchen cum bedroom of their relative's house. He has lost at least half of his 3 acre paddy field to the landslide, his house is a rickety mess of wood and mud (which the slide brought in) and he has no job.

praful rao

Thursday, October 11, 2007

That sinking feeling...

14th mile in Kalimpong is another of those areas which people rather fatalistically categorize as “always was a sinking area”.

The question today is that with the number of such sinking areas increasing in the vicinity of Kalimpong town can we afford this apathy?

Here is a list of sinking areas around town that I know of

a) Chibo and GREF area

b) Sindebung

c) 14 - 16th Mile area

d) Several sections of the road from Teesta to Kalimpong (4 -5th mile area)

e) Sangsay Phatak and Dalapchand

f) Some parts of 11mile area

g) and now some parts of 12 mile area

Here are some more sinking areas slightly away from Kalimpong town

a) Algarah (Mirik) area

b) Seokbir Khani

c) Some parts of Pedong (Kagey road)

I am sure many of my friends from Kalimpong will be able to add to this list.

The point is, take away all these areas from the map of Kalimpong and what is left?

Even a cursory look at the 14th mile area revealed that our jhoras (mountain streams) have a big role to play in the instability of the land mass there. Besides this there is also Relli river gnawing at the heels of the mountain and pulling all of 14th mile and the adjoining areas directly above 14th mile into the Relli valley.

Can something be done about these sinking areas?

Or will we just sit by and watch our mountains disappear?

praful rao

Sunday, October 7, 2007

One difference between floods and landslides

Compared to the huge numbers, affected by floods each year in this part of the world, those affected by landslides appear to be miniscule. Perhaps that is why landslides were not even recognized by the Govt of West Bengal till recently as a natural disaster!
Undoubtedly both floods and landslides are terrible.
The critical difference is that after the water recedes in flood affected areas, people can return to their homes and land...ie the land is intact.

In landslides...

land vanishes.

And so in my meanderings this time, I looked at the worried faces of so many- mainly farmers who had lost precious land to landslides. To the best of my knowledge the govt gives some compensation for loss/damage of houses and life (no matter how meagre) but there is no provision for compensating loss of land.

So what do all these people do?

Placed below is data obtained from "Anugyalaya" of Darjeeling Diocese Social Service Society on land loss in the monsoons thus far in 2007 in Kalimpong subdivision.

Nimbong Pabringtar GP

Ghanti dara Village 10acres

Paila Line Village 5-6acres

Puma Khop Village 1acre

Seokbir Yoke GP

Beech Gaon Village 4acres

Chuikim Village 10acres

Gitdabling GP

Pakang village 40acres

Lower Dubling village 25acres

Upper Dubling village 8acres

Pochok village 3acres

Yangmakum GP

Panbu village 6acres

Yang village 4acres

Kafer-Kankebung GP

Munthum village 5acres

Mamring-Sittong GP

Lower Turuk village 4acres

Praful Rao

Friday, October 5, 2007

Chibo bustee- a lost case?

When I talk to many about Chibo, Kalimpong, in the context of landslides, what I get is a shrug and a standard statement “Chibo was ALWAYS a sinking area”.

I find that statement increasingly irritating because it tantamounts to admission of defeat and that nothing can be done in Chibo; in short all the people of Chibo and their assets are doomed.

The question is, has any technical study been done in Chibo as to how we can at least SLOW down the sinking. This is all the more important today, since the number of sinking areas in and around Kalimpong is actually INCREASING.

It takes no expert to point out that Chibo has a large number of rivulets or jhoras which drain the area and all of these appear untrained. A cursory inspection also reveals that much of the sinking is due to these jhoras gobbling up the land that they plough thru. Planting of incorrect types of trees also seems to have played a big hand in the recent slides.

So can we call in some experts to suggest ways in which we can manage these jhoras, suggest the types of trees to be planted etc. I would think that this will be a complex study involving drainage pattern, soil structure, tree plantation and so on. I believe seminars have taken place on this matter but have largely remained hot air being blown across the table.

That time has passed, it is now time to ACT -experts and citizens together.

Praful Rao

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Remembering Balasun Landslide 2006

Balasun Tea Garden, P.O. Sonada, Sukhia Pokharia Dev. Block, Darjeeling has been recently taken over by Jai Shree Group of Companies.

The history of landslide in this area goes back to a decade. But the real problem started from the year 2003. As per the resident of the area, when the western side of the hill started giving up because of the sinking area which is at the base of the hill connecting to the Balasun River, situation started worsening.

With the depression in the Bay of Bengal, Darjeeling had incessant and heavy rain for a week in August 2006. This increased the landslide. 25 houses were totally washed away, 35 houses irreparable and the remaining 15 houses within the vulnerable area. No casualties took place. Most of the people are daily wage earners in the tea estate.

On 29th August 2006, the impact of the landslide was such that the houses in three hamlets started developing cracks. The appearance of the crack was just a hairline and within five to six days the crack grew to six to eight inches. In few of the houses the cracks were more than one feet and more than six feet deep. Cracks could be seen crossing from one room to another, and from one house to another, which made dwelling in the houses hazards. The three most affected hamlets were Pari Gaon, Ghuraya Gaon and Babu Gaon.

The people were relocated within the TE but the landslide continues.

Roshan Rai

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