Sunday, August 31, 2008

Phases of disillusionment..

Till date I have attended two national level meetings on disaster management where much was trumpeted about the "paradigm shift" from a "relief-centric approach" in disaster management to one based on "prevention, preparedness and mitigation".

STH is a year old now and after almost one year of badgering on doors of National Disaster Management Authority(NDMA), State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), the media and the powers that be for some sort of landslide preventive/mitigation measures to be implemented in these hills, I am convinced that the "paradigm shift" has only taken place in the rarefied atmosphere of air-conditioned offices of Centaur Hotel, Delhi where the (NDMA) is based.

Nothing has changed at the ground level and despite the "paradigm shift", our only landslide prevention/mitigation weapon till date remains fervent prayers in our churches/ gompas/ temples and mosques.

What a pity!

Placed below are excerpts from (link is here) and some comments by Rediff readers which echo my thoughts:-


'Tsunami of Bihar' could have been avoided

Sheela Bhatt

August 29, 2008 20:53 IST
Last Updated: August 30, 2008 14:43 IST

"These are not floods. This is worse than Tsunami [Images]," says Janta Dal-United President Sharad Yadav while talking to media persons about the devastation caused by the Kosi river, which flows from Nepal into India.

People, who have visited the affected areas, are amazed by the flooding in the most unexpected areas.

"Normally, residents of northern
Bihar are prepared for Kosi's fury. Boats are available in villages. When rains come, people keep few assets in houses. But this time, after some 125 years, Kosi entered new areas. Nobody was expecting Kosi to maroon them," says Sanjay Jha, resident of Patna.

Preventive measures not taken

It is shocking story of chalta hai (take it easy) attitude of the state and central government that has caused such misery to the people of Bihar.

By all accounts, Kosi has not fully flooded yet, says a source in
Kathmandu who has visited the area. If more rains hit the area in September then, the situation will be more dangerous than it is now.

Right now, the flooding is due to a break in some part of the embankment on the
Nepal side that has rushed in waters into India and displaced 50,000 Nepalis and more than 2 million Biharis.

"There seems to be slackness on both sides. It seems that even the mandatory repair work was not done," says Yubraj Ghimire, senior journalist, from Kathmandu.

"If the government of Bihar had conducted regular repair work in the dry season, this calamity could have been averted," says Indian source in Kathmandu.

Kosi's catchment area is massive and the river carries one of the highest amounts of slit in the world. As a result, Nepal is unable to benefit as expected in power generation.

"Nepali government should have been more helpful in helping repairs before August 18," says an Indian officer in Kathmandu.
Bihar government officials associated with the project informed the Indian embassy in Kathmandu only on August 18 of the difficulties faced by them. By that time it was too late and Kosi had changed its course to wreck entire the north-east part of 'Mithilanchal'.


comments by rediff readers

Prevention is the ONLY cure
by DV Nayak on Aug 30, 2008 11:56 PM Permalink | Hide replies

I think that is what we, the people, need to realise about disasters like this.
Either you prevent it or you face the consequences.
Blame game
by Ganesh on Aug 30, 2008 10:57 AM Permalink | Hide replies

Blame game is on. When CM made a statement on 17th August, center did not respond. The relief has been announced only on the day , PM visited Bihar. These guys play while public suffers. If everyone knows that Kosi swells ever year why can't canals be built to supply water to the other parts of the country like MP, North Maharstra etc.


The same old story.....
by Junaid Badshah on Aug 30, 2008 10:11 AM Permalink

Its the same old story again. The sufferers are the common people. I have personally endures during the floods in Surat..the last one being in 2006. To garner the votebank and to hog the limelight, a few relief packages were dropped by the army helicopters but is that enough? Its the same old story everywhere....there should have been enough precautions taken by the govt. in advance to avoid...why dont we learn our lessons even when the calamities are repeated time and again .... in different parts of the country..?? The condition at Ground Zero is much worse than shown by the media...the media does glorify the pain .. but actually its much much more....
Why doesnt the govts (central & state) act in a proactive manner anytime?? The Rs.1000 Crore relief now shouted out by the prime minister ... would this actually reach the affected people?? or will it find its way into the pockets of the babus--like its been for ages??
Change is whats needed now...else it will be too late....


For God's sake, set some accountability for Govt. bodies.....
by SS Kumar on Aug 30, 2008 09:42 AM Permalink

If the Indian Government means business, it should give marching orders to the members of the Disaster Management Council of India for dereliction of duty in Bihar. They were either virtually sleeping or had not done their home- work well in time. It is high time we had accountability standards established in India
instead of the "Sab Chalta Hai" attitude. Clearly, their dereliction of duty has result- ed in avoidable loss of several precious lives.
It should be as punishable as a motorist running over pedestrians. By punishing them, the GOI can show other government departments that it means business and will not tolerate lame excuses.

praful rao

Friday, August 29, 2008

Latest photos from NHPC stage III Lo-dam (27th Mile, Kalimpong) - 28Aug08

Slide 1 - Huge cracks on the massive concrete retaining walls. There is no doubt these cracks are getting larger each day -this area is directly above the NHPC dam power house shown in slide 2.

Slide 2 - The power house area of the dam which lies directly below the cracked portion. It is apparent that work in area is causing the landslide from above.

Slide 3 - Portion of National Highway (NH) 31A just above the dam site. NH31A has a high density of heavy traffic plying between Sikkim/Kalimpong and Siliguri. The entire hill (encircled) is getting pulled down in the direction shown.

comment by praful rao

I took these photos on 28Aug08 while on my way to Siliguri. I had visited this area just 5 days earlier, yet even in this short span of time the cracks on the retaining walls only seemed to have become wider. Unfortunately, the lay people whom I met around there, one, a villager from a hamlet above, and another ,a security guard of the dam, shared my feelings - that the hill would not survive for long.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chapter 22.1.2 (on the Darjiling Himalayas)

Placed below are excerpts from the W. Bengal Govt website on environment
. The link is here

" The Darjiling Hill Region of West Bengal, comprising of the Darjiling, Kurseong, Kalimpong subdivisions of the Darjiling district covers an area of 2325.31, which is about 73.8% of the total area of the Darjiling district and supports a resident population of 684818 i.e. 52.7% of the total population of the district. Being a part of the eastern Himalayan ecosystem it possesses all the attributes of eco-fragile Himalayan system i.e. weak geological formation, arrested succession, depreciation of vegetation etc. Besides, Darjiling Himalayas have a number of landslide zones, which further reinstates its status as an eco-fragile region.

In the absence of any major scope for industrial development except in the primary sector and in the face of stagnation of tea industry, it is obvious that the economic development of this area now depends on tourism to a great extent. But the growth of tourism has also ushered in unplanned urbanisation, illegal construction activities, large scale deforestation etc. The impact of anthropogenic interference is widest in the ever increasing incidences of landslides, choking of drainage channels and consequent soil erosion as well as water scarcity, destruction of ecological heritage etc.

The environmental impact of this demographic pressure is noted. The solid waste generated is estimated at 20 MT per day, while present infrastructure can cope up with only 5 mld. The sewerage system is reportedly connected with 5 septic tanks, of which two large tanks set up to handle 70% of sewage remains non functional. The solid waste is passed down the hill slope.

The municipal services remain ineffective with a critical profile of basic sanitation. Enteric diseases during monsoon season is well spread. Added to this, extensive urbanisation in the declared sinking zone (e.g. Alubari), landslips due to improper drainage, natural calamity, intensity of which are becoming more frequent after 1968 as the records of 1980, 1984, 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1997 bear testimony.

Construction activities are being carried out in the hill regions either illegally or with total disregard to building rules. Marginalised section of population have constructed shanties on unstable slopes and also on jhoras. These are likely to accentuate landslide activities in future. Besides, open defective drains leading into the jhoras and decomposing of garbage has lead to contamination of water. Due to mixing of garbage and sewage water with water sources, coliform bacteria abundant in water supply causing health hazards, specially in the human population along downstream area.

The West Bengal Government has recently set up a committee (under the agency of Ministry of Urban Affairs) to review the linkage between landslide occurrences and unplanned construction activities. Among the recommendations of the committee’s report which is being drafted at present, the two most important are :

  • Fixing Building heights at 11.5 m (G + 3 floor level)
  • Making construction of soakpits compulsory

A comprehensive hill area environment management plan is however yet to materialise."

comment by praful rao
I hate to say that much of what is stated above is true. The question is :-

What do we do?

(Italics in the above report are mine)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A damned dam ... 24Aug2008

Two NHPC (National Hydroelectric Power Corporation) Low - dams have come under media scrutiny recently (see extract of 17Aug2008 Telegraph below):-
I have placed 4 captioned photos from my visits to the NHPC Stage III, lo -dam at 27th mile area after the media reports -

Morcha (Political Party) strikes at low dam sites for road

Darjeeling, Aug. 17: The Rs 2,000 crore Teesta low dam scheme of the NHPC has once again run into rough weather with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha calling an indefinite strike at the project sites from tomorrow.

The Morcha is demanding the immediate construction of an alternative route along a stretch of the Takdha-Teesta road that has allegedly been damaged by the ongoing project.

Narbuji Lama, the president of the Morcha’s Teesta-Takdha Valley Committee, today said: “We have taken permission from party president Bimal Gurung for the strike. The NHPC had promised us that the road would be built but work has not yet started.”

“Earlier, we did not have frequent landslides but ever since the construction started a few years ago, this has been a recurring problem. Even this morning about 30-40 vehicles were stranded for five to six hours because a jeep broke down on that potholed stretch,” said Lama. He added that the road was the lifeline to the 80,000 residents of the Takdah valley.

The Takdha-Teesta road connects the valley to NH31A and most people prefer to go to Siliguri rather than Darjeeling for their daily chores as the plains town is closer.

The Morcha wants the alternative route to bypass the landslide-prone area and connect Deorali Gaon to Rambi Bazaar.

S. Khatua, the chief engineer of Teesta Low Dam Project-III, has condemned the “culture of bandh”.

“I have not yet heard about the strike but it is time everyone realised that shutdowns are never solutions to any problem. The culture of bandh does not help anyone,” said Khatua.

In June, too, the Morcha had called for an indefinite strike at the project sites. The strike had lasted for three-four days.

The TLD-III is a Rs 768.92 crore project (according to a December 2002 pricing) while Stage IV entails a cost of Rs 1061.38 crore. Both the projects are coming up in the Rambi-Kalijhora area, about 20km downstream of Teesta Baazar in Kalimpong sub-division.

The two projects combined is one of the biggest in the region as TLD-III is expected to have a capacity of 132 MW while TLD-IV is expected to produce 160 MW.

“The TLDP-III was set to be completed in September 2009 but this has been extended to December because of the recent spate of strikes. The TLDP-IV is likely to be completed in December 2010,” said Khatua.

Even though the 2002 pricing of TLDP-III was pegged at around 700 crore, sources said it has already touched the 1,000 crore mark.

Khatua, however, said the the company was willing to finance the construction of an alternative route. “The land belongs to the forest department and we have already approached the authorities for transfer of land. The process does take long and a road cannot be built overnight,” he said.

The NHPC wants the Morcha leaders to help them expedite the transfer of land. “If the leaders can play a part in expediting the transfer of land, instead of calling a strike, it would be more useful,” Khatua said.

Lama, however, said the onus of transferring the land was on the NHPC. “If they could acquire such a big area for the project, they can easily do so for the road,” said Lama.



Comment by praful rao
This year we have been fortunate thus far...
except for Jun08 when we had heavy rain , the monsoons have been kind to us...
so on 24Aug2008 when I visited the NHPC dam stage III, I was happy..many of the areas seemed to be holding on, as if to disprove my gloomy predictions!!!
All, except for the horrible portion directly above the power house area...
which is going, going gone...

mark my words!
and hence the title of this blog ( A damned...)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Information regarding landslide prevention which we seek...

The world over, the mantra being chanted in Disaster Management circles is "prevention, mitigation and preparedness" with the old, post-disaster "relief-centric" approach being rightfully relegated to the dust bin.

Not so in West Bengal(W.B) state, India.

So two junior "Relief Officers" from the W.B State Govt's Disaster Management department attended the National level conference on landslides in Kolkata on the 16Jul2008 (refer post of 19Jul2008) and the Govt of W.B website on Disaster Management says it all (refer post of 28Jul2008) as regards landslide prevention and mitigation.

This attitude must change and fortunately the Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005 - which mandates timely response to citizen requests for government information - gives us just this weapon to bring about a change in thinking.

Yesterday, I put up an RTI application for information regarding prevention and mitigation of landslide hazards in our area to the District Magistrate who heads the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) for Darjeeling district.

The same is reproduced below.

This is the first one....


comment by praful rao

My thanks to friends in the STH mailing list who helped me in putting up this RTI application

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Landslides in Sikkim -16Aug2008

Landslide renders eight families homeless at Marchak

DIKCHU, 17 Aug: A ferocious landslide which struck in the morning of
16 August at Marchak, about six kilometers short of Dikchu from
Singtam, has left eight families homeless. Their houses have suffered
major damages and the terrain remains unstable. The residents have
been shifted to safer locations while the main affected have been
shifted to a nearby school.
The devastation caused by the landslide is evident here, with damaged
houses, a blocked highway [reopened since], dead livestock and
homeless residents trying to retrieve whatever was left for them to
salvage from the rubble. Villagers clutching to their valuables,
sitting on the roadside next to utensils recovered from the rubble,
stared blankly while others shifted beds and cupboards [from houses
under threat] to the nearby school.
The landslide rolled down from around 300 meters uphill, starting from
Yan village in Tintek Block, and totaled houses in its path and
killing livestock when it struck at around 5 AM in the morning.
Rural Sikkim rises early and this saved their lives on Saturday.
"We had just woken up and were in the process of going about our daily
chores when we heard a loud bang like that of gelatin stick blasting
which the NHPC used to carry out in the area. When we came out of our
houses and saw that the hill above was shrouded in a heavy cloud of
dust and debris, we knew that our worst fears had come true. Suddenly,
we heard shouts that a land slide had broken loose and we ran for
safety. Big rocks and debris then came rolling down in full force with
great noise and took away house and destroyed our 'goth' killing
cattle and livestock. The timing was such that no human lives were
lost and we are thankful to god for that," said Arjun Rai, who has
lost a part of his house and was busy shifting his belongings to the
nearby Marchak School where the district administration had set up an
emergency relief camp.
Showing NOW! the place where a relative, Durga Bahadur Rai's house
once stood, Indra Kumari Rai expresses bewilderment at how they
escaped harm. She, along with her family, had taken refuge in the same
house the previous night thinking it to be 'safer' than her own house.
"Our house was just below the mud-slides which had been slipping every
now and then during heavy rains. When the downpour got heavier last
night, we decided to sleep over at our relative's [Durga Bahadur]
house which we thought was safe enough. This slide has taken the same
house. It is frightening to even imagine what would have happened if
the slide had come down at night, or, for that matter, even later in
the day. There are small children everywhere, and the timing of the
slide was such as no one was running around, we just clutched them and
ran for safety," she recounted.
The slide also blocked the Singtam-Dikchu Highway for an entire day
and was cleared by the GREF by this morning. The huge boulders which
had fallen on the road had to be 'blasted'.
Some of the locals like Indra Kumari Rai have also complained of
inefficient and unplanned blasting which had further damaged their
property which is just below the main slide zone.
"The GREF blasting shot up rocks which have further damaged my kitchen
which is just next to the washed away house. We have complained to the
district administration and they have asked me to complain to the
GREF, I have told the officer here but I have been busy shifting our
belongings to the Marchak School. Every thing is unstable and we are
moving all our belongings and whatever is left. We shall be living in
the school today, but again, the officers have asked us to move out to
another location by tomorrow [Sunday] as the school reopens on Monday.
We are in dilemma, let's see what happens", says Ms. Rai.
The residents have also now become more vocal in expressing their
concerns over the stability of the area and contend that the frequent
slides are being caused by 'irresponsible' blasting conducted by the
NHPC during the construction of the tunnel for Stage V which runs from
Aap Dara near Dikchu to Balutar near Singtam.
"Land along the tunnel stretch towards Singtam and Dikchu started
giving way ever since the blastings commenced. The entire hill has
become unstable," states Durga Bahadur Rai who has lost his entire
house to the slide, along with two cows and two pigs. It was his house
where Indra Kumari Rai and Arjun Rai's families of around 18,
including children, had taken refuge in the previous night.
The first to reach the spot as per the locals were personnel from the
Dikchu Police Out-Post, including the OC and the Second In-charge,
who, with the help of locals, started immediate relief work. By
afternoon, large numbers of locals from the neighboring villages had
gathered at the spot to help in the evacuation process.
Area MLA Norzang Lepcha, accompanied by the SDM [Gangtok] AB Karki and
BDO, Rakdong-Tintek, Tenzing D Denzongpa also arrived for verification
and released ex-gratia relief to the affected families.
Durga Bahadur Rai was given Rs. 10,000 as his house has been totally
damaged while the others affected like Indra Kumari Rai, Kamal Kumar
Chettri and Laxmi Prasad Bhattarai who has also lost two of his cows
were provided with Rs. 2,000 each. The eight families who have been
shifted received Rs. 1,500 each.
After inspection, the affected familes were shifted to private
structure under construction in the area where the relief camp will
move after Sunday so that the school can reopen on Monday.

Comment by praful rao

Landslides do not respect political boundaries and even though Sikkim is a separate state, it is a part of a
contiguous geographic region.
I am extremely glad that STH has become a platform from where we can let the world know about a hazard which recurs every year with unfailing regularity and threatens to engulf large parts of our populated areas in the years ahead.
Climate change and global warming together with a host of anthropogenic factors makes it imperative for us to work cohesively and concertedly towards combating this hazard.

My thanks to
a) Ms Mita Zulka and
b) 'NOW' newspaper of Sikkim
for the above report and photographs.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Almost one year later....



Almost a year ago, following the Sep07 rains I visited many areas in the vicinity of Kalimpong where landslides had caused havoc.

This year, till date we have been lucky ; Jul2008 rainfall data showed that we had received just half the rain of Jul2007.
And August 2008 also seems to be holding out pretty well..
or is it?
The rainfall data of two days is placed below:-

Rain fall data:-
15Aug2008- 29mm

16Aug2008- 47 mm

Yesterday, after almost a year, I visited two landslide areas close to my home, several hours after the rains had stopped. At both places, the slides were still active and one could hear the now familiar rumble as loose rocks and mud crashed into the rivulet (jhora) below.

At Bhalukhop, I was, therefore, rather surprised when I saw an elderly lady (slide1) and her granddaughter deftly negotiate (slide 2) a rain gorged rivulet and landslide.... when she came over to me, she complained that road to her home had been washed away by the jhora (slide3) and that now she had to take this lengthy detour and then with absolute certainty and equanimity she also told me the ground where we stood would also "go" in the days ahead...

At Soureni, I met a village lady (slide 4) who informed me that a new slide (slide5) had opened up next to her home at 4.30AM that day. She said in Sep07 (slide6), the slides had destroyed all her arable land and that she and her husband had to support their children by working as laborers (coolies). The govt had paid her Rs2000/- (approx $45) for the land loss.

Here are some points worth noting :-
a) In Jun2008 slightly higher than average rain caused major problems (refer posts of 24, 29 and 30Jun2008).
b) In Jul2008, we had less than normal rainfall (200mm short) so no landslide incident took place.
c) In Aug2008, just two days of slightly heavy rain caused activation of the above slides and I am very sure many other landslides in the district which we will never come to know of-

since landslides, like mountains and momos have been a part of our lives for a long time now..
we take this hazard for granted!

What we ought to remind ourselves is that,
whereas hazards maybe natural,
disasters are not,
and landslide disasters
especially, are to a large extent preventable.

(Both Soureni (refer post of 27Sep07) and Bhalukhop (refer post of 07Apr08) have been featured in STH earlier.)

praful rao

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

An expert's view...

Professor Dave Petley, BSc (Hons) AKC PhD FRGS FGS ILTM CGeog

Dr Petley, of Durham University, UK is a world authority on landslides (refer STH blog of 08May08) and is one of the resource persons speaking in the First World Landslide Forum to be held in Tokyo, Japan on 18-21Nov2008 (his topic: Risk Management Strategies in Urban Areas) .

STH has been in touch with him for some time now and I emailed him some queries a few days ago. I reproduce my letter to him and his reply below:-

My letter :-


some basic doubts, as and when u have the time:-

a) in the year of so that landslides have obsessed me i have found that, in india and maybe the world over this hazard, is the least known (and maybe understood). in the conference that i attended in calcutta on 16jul, this was told to me in as many words, despite the fact that in darjeeling district and sikkim we have one of the highest incidences of landslides in the world. most disaster management websites focus almost totally on floods/droughts/tsunamis/ earthquakes with landslides only being mentioned, IF at all.

what can be done to correct this?
(maybe as a direct consequence to this there is very little if any preventive work taking place against landslides.)

b) my experience over the past year has been that
i) huge landslides are not necessarily the ones causing damage and death. by and large people have already vacated such areas and whilst they may be of geological interest but they are not the ones which are killing people.
ii) it is the smaller ones, esp those creeping into our urban areas which we have to watch out for, these are anthropogenic in nature and are the killers.

having said this, i feel raising awareness amongst people, correcting drainage patterns, planting trees etc maybe more beneficial than massive geological LHZ studies and so on.

may i have yr comments?




His reply:-

Dear Praful,

Thanks for your email. I am sorry that it has taken so long to get back to you - I am currently traveling to NewZealand, which is about as far as you can get from the UK. I am half way there in Singapore today.

Regarding your questions:

1. The under-investment in landslide mitigation and management, Yes, I couldn't agree more. This is somewhat frustrating as landslides cause far higher losses than volcanoes for example, and in many countries far more than earthquakes. However, earthquakes and floods tend to occur in single events that cause large numbers of fatalities, whereas landslides are incremental. This was a key reason for starting the landslide database and it is having some effect. We have a long way to go though.

2. Huge landslides vs small landslides. I do agree with you in many ways about your observations of the effects of small vs large landslides. In many cases the small landslides are the ones that have the biggest impact as people often vacate the larger ones. They also tend to be the ones that cause the poorest people to lose their homes and livelihoods, without any compensation. However, in global terms the majority of fatalities from landslides actually occur in comparably rare but incredibly destructive large events. My one caveat though is that I am quite sure that the databases misses very many small events with one or two deaths. Added together the impact of these could be large.

3. Anthropogenic landslides. Yes, I agree that these are a cause of great concern, especially in areas of rapid growth in which cities are rapidly expanding. I fear that we will see a legacy of landslides in the urban areas of Asia over the next decade as a result of the incredible rate of urbanization in Asia. Of course climate change is also a factor. The new paper in Science that demonstrates that precipitation intensities are increasing as the climate warms should be a cause of great concern to the landslide community.

Your final point, which appears to be almost a throw-away comment, is of course the most important and is very well made. There are some places in which LHZ studies are relevant - for example in Kashmir this is critically needed to identify the slopes that have been left in an unstable state. However, in most parts of the world the upshot of such studies is rarely useful. The resource would be far better spent on the things that you mention, plus proper route selection and mitigation for low cost roads, promoting soil conservation, community-led warning systems, etc. I do believe that these need to be science-led (and indeed am very frustrated by the determination of aid agencies to have no science input into their hazard management programs) though.

Landslides are a hazard that can be managed. Sadly we are failing to achieve this in most of the world. The triple whammy of climate change, population growth and land use change, without effective management strategies, mean that we losing the battle. It's a shame really.

Best wishes,



Comments by praful rao :-

In the almost one year that STH has been in existence, what I have observed is that many landslides in our district are anthropogenic
(ie we humans have caused them) and not due to geology or the wrath of nature . So complex, comprehensive and expensive studies by experts are not really required to understand the causative factors. If we are causing them, then the solution should not also be impossible - and a good starting point would be a massive awareness campaign, involving CBOs, NGOs, schools, rural SHGs and so on.

In any case, I know that, in Darjeeling district there has been no shortage of surveys carried out by geologists and experts..
The question is what happened after the surveys ?
What happened is that, the survey reports were junked in some rusty steel cupboard and have become a dusty, dog-eared relics.
The recommendations in the many survey reports never saw the light of day.

The result is minor landslips of 20years ago which could have been controlled or mitigated at a reasonable cost then have
today, become veritable godzillas ripping up the landscape and which will require enormous investment to mitigate or control...
if this is possible at all...(an example of this can seen at Pashyor/ Chibo, Kalimpong).

- (the italics in Dave's letter are mine)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A step in the right direction...

STH readers may recollect that in Dec 07 (refer blog of 12Dec 07) we had FAXED, to the Chief Minister, Govt of West Bengal, a summation of all important points about landslides that had emerged in the 4 months that STH had existed. The relevant part is reproduced below:-

"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."

The news report in "The Telegraph" dated 11Aug08 (reproduced in part below) is more than welcome
Four-storey ceiling for Darjeeling

Darjeeling, Aug. 10: The Darjeeling Municipality has passed a resolution to sanction buildings up to four storeys. Unlike the earlier ceiling, no height has been specified this time. Normally, a four-storied building can be anything between 11.5m and 14m.

A meeting of the board of councillors on Saturday has also approved that all residents applying for the sanction of their building plans should submit an affidavit stating that they would not construct any floors beyond the permitted storeys.

“We will henceforth sanction only those building plans that are four-storied. The applicants will have to submit an affidavit maintaining that they would not be adding any further stories to the sanctioned drawing,” said Pemba Tshering Ola, the chairman of the municipality. However, even if there are no affidavits, action will be taken against those who flout rules, Ola said.

In the past, the GNLF-run municipality had been engaged in a tug of war with the state government over the height restriction. While the government wanted the maximum permitted height to remain 11.5m, the earlier boards wanted the ceiling to be raised to 14m.

The current board with 18 Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters among the 24 (the number has come down from 32 after one resigned earlier, six did on Saturday and one died), however, has decided to look more at storeys than the height in metres.

In another move, the municipality has decided to declare legal all those buildings which already have exceeded the 14m height restriction. “We will re-assess all such buildings and impose tax on them,” said Ola.

Earlier, since such buildings were not “legal”, the authorities could not levy taxes. Nor could they be demolished because of more practical reasons like stiff opposition. In fact, most buildings in Darjeeling are more than four-storied (in picture).

A promoter in Darjeeling town, not wanting to be named, said the decision was for the “health” of the town. “Although our profits will come down, we will have to follow the law,” he said.

The municipality has also decided to the make a “vision paper” of Darjeeling town. “We will get in touch with experts in Calcutta and Delhi in the third week of August. We are looking at demolishing old buildings owned by the municipality and utilise the space better. The vision paper will plan the town for the future,” said Ola. The municipality owns 20 buildings in town.

praful rao

Monday, August 11, 2008

A document worth reading - "Taming the Teesta" by Dr Kalyan Rudra

An excerpt from the above document is placed below:-

"The Teesta is a rain and snow-fed river. The permanently snow-covered area of the basin is about 158.40 sq. km. The upper catchment receives a total annual rainfall of 1,328 mm. while the middle of the basin receives 2,619 mm. It has been recorded that about 77-84% of the annual rainfall is received between June and September. The heavy concentration of rainfall within a short period is common in the eastern Himalaya. Gangtok recorded 1,500 mm. rainfall between October 2 to 5, 1968. The highest one-day rainfall recorded at Darjeeling was 521 mm. The mountains have been extensively deforested with increasing population since the mid-19th century. This has altered the infiltration run-off ratio (the amount of rainwater absorbed by the soil relative to the amount which runs off) and slope failure has become a menace. Infiltration is generally high and run-off little in a forested tract. The Teesta basin is now one of the most landslide prone areas of the country, contributing a huge sediment load to the river. The mean annual discharge of the Teesta at Anderson bridge is about 580 cumecs and it declines to 90 cumecs in the lean months. The peak discharge may be as much as 4,000-5,000 cumecs. It was estimated that the peak discharge of the river at Jalpaiguri during the devastating flood of 1968 was 19,800 cumecs. The sediment load in the river increases with high monsoon discharge. It was observed that 72% of the suspended load is transported between July and August when the bulk of discharge flows through the river (Starkel et al, 1998). It seems certain that the dynamic equilibrium of the river will be impaired with the construction of a series of dams and the sediment load will be trapped within the reservoirs, reducing their capacity. This, in turn, could compel dam managers to release water during heavy rainfall, causing sudden flash floods downstream. On July 20, 1993, a severe cloudburst in and around Kathmandu generated 540 mm. of rainfall within 24 hours and brought down five million cubic metres of sediment into the reservoir of the Kulekhani dam (Dixit and Ahmed, 1998). This risk will exist for any dam constructed in the Himalayas.

The entire Himalaya is tectonically unstable. The Indian plate continues to subduct under the north Asian plate and rocks lying in between are severely compressed. The crust has broken up in a series of faults along the southern front of the Himalaya. These thrust faults are collectively termed the Main Boundary Thrust (Valdiya, 1998). The stretch between the two dam sites selected for stage III and stage IV is geologically fragile and already identified as seismic zone IV. There is a very real fear that the massive construction works and the reservoirs created would increase the risk of seismicity."

Those interested in reading the whole document can find it here:-

praful rao

Thursday, August 7, 2008

04Aug2008 - An anthropogenic landslide (ie caused by human beings)....

Kazi compound, Murgihatta lies on the very edge of Kalimpong municipal limits to the east and below it (see sketch) . A network of small drains from Kalimpong town ie from the Mela ground, Motor stand, Baghdhara area discharge rain water from the built up areas of the town into a bigger drain or jhora which flows past Kazi compound.

The huge increase in built up areas within the town has resulted in a significant increase in the run-off (surface) rain water flowing into the drains. Unfortunately, the drainage system has not been revamped to cater for this increase and the volume of rain water now far exceeds the carrying capacity of the drains.

Whereas the network of drains within the municipal limits of Kalimpong can still cope with this; the problem commences when the water reaches beyond the town limits ie at Kazi compound.
Here there is hardly any drain at all except for the natural one or “jhora”. With jhora training/repair having been shelved for many decades now, the huge torrent of water in this jhora has now started causing landslides (see photo)…
too close to densely populated urban areas.

The “jhora” or drain problem here affects approximately 20 houses in the above area and as if to complicate matters a big sewer which carries waste from a large part of the Kalimpong town thru this area to the municipal septic tanks below Kazi compound is also threatened by this landslide.

- report filed by Ms Aachal Tamang


comment by praful rao

Increasingly, landslides like the one above are being caused by us humans and therefore cannot be blamed on geological factors or the vagaries of nature.
Therefore, controlling this hazard is also well within our power.

Incidentally the landslide was triggered off by approx 36mm of rain on 04Aug2007.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Landslide Awareness Program - Aug2008

If at all some meaningful work has to be done in landslide prevention, generation of awareness amongst us, NGOs and the govt will play a key role. To that extent STH has done quite a few programs amongst a variety of people and at several places in the district.
In Jan2008, 9 post -grad (diploma) Disaster Management students of North Bengal Univ (NBU) accompanied by head of Dept Dr Sanjay Rana had visited Kalimpong for a preliminary insight into the landslide problem here (slide1) .
Two days ago, three of the students came back to complete their project work on landslides (slide 2).
I place some of their observations below:-

a) At Bhalukhop, extensive stone quarrying had been done at the toe of a hill along a road construction site. This could have serious consequences in a vulnerable, landslide prone area.

b) At Alaichikhop, they were happy to see community action in landslide prevention, where the local community had themselves taken up the preventive role since there was no action from the Govt/Municipality (please refer blog of 20Jun2008)

c) Soureni village (slide3) was a lost case. There was no way the rockslides could be prevented as such probably the only solution was relocation of the village to a safer area.

d) What they were made acutely aware of was the fact that nothing had been done by way of landslide prevention and that the villagers hoped that they ie the students could do something regarding this.


Comment by praful rao

I cannot agree with their observations more:-

a) As stated in an earlier blog, one of the main causes of landslides in Nepal (and obviously in Darjeeling district) are improper construction of roads. At Bhalukhop, it is nothing short of suicide to be quarrying at the base of a hill in a vulnerable, landslide prone area.

b) I too have felt that sense of helplessness when desperate people beckon you to their homes, show you their cracked and damaged houses in the hope that something will be done. I have also watched the hope slowly turn into despair, disillusionment and even anger when after visiting the affected area many times with journalists/ students/ engineers and so on, nothing has been done by way of landslide prevention for the months that have elapsed since Sep07.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Jul2008 - a quiet month (as far as landslides went in the Darjeeling Himalayas)


July Rainfall(mm)




































































































Normal Average Rainfall Jul = 765mm (

Rainfall Jul2007 = 1193mm

Rainfall Jul2008 = 542mm


July2008 was a quiet month as far as landslides went in the Darjeeling and Sikkim Himalayas... and a look at the rainfall data above explains why

  • we received much less (almost 200mm short) than the average monthly rainfall.
  • in July 2007, we received more than double the rain we had in Jul2008 which I think somewhat explains why the National Hydroelectric Power Corp (NHPC) stage III Dam at 27th mile went under water on the 27Jul2007


Comment by praful rao

Rainfall data kind courtesy,
Mrs Kanta Pradhan,

My apologies for the rainfall chart which despite my young friend Anuj's ( best advice and intervention appears too big...