The NGO, Save The Hills, has distributed 15 gunny sacks of vetiver or khas-khas grass at cost price to different groups for planting in the landslide-prone areas of Chibo-Pashyor and Sindebung on the fringes of Kalimpong.
The grass was also given to two other NGOs, which are working in remote areas of the subdivision, promoting agriculture and spreading awareness on the measures needed to arrest landslides.
“Vetiver is a tough grass native to south India. Even though vetiver is being used the world over to check soil erosion and for slope protection, this is the first time that we are trying out the grass in these mountains for erosion control and slope stability. This is very much an experiment since we found bamboo to be not too suitable for soil binding once the rainfall crossed a certain threshold,” said Praful Rao, the president of the STH.
Rao said if the experiment proved successful, the NGO may start vetiver plantation on a much larger scale, especially in the rural areas where farmers are losing land continuously because of erosion by jhoras.
“What is special about vetiver is that its dense fibrous roots go vertically into the soil over a four-five year period. Its roots are normally three-four metre long. Some call the grass ‘living soil nailing’ in reference to an engineering technique used to prevent landslides. The grass is also used as fodder and its stems as fuel,” he added.
Landslides are taking place with increasing frequency in the hills, killing people, destroying properties and eating up land. Although experts talk about a comprehensive landslide prevention plan, no initiative has been taken to put in place a mechanism to tackle the problem.
“Such a plan requires huge resources which would certainly require the government's involvement. Ours is a small attempt to help in landslide prevention,” said Rao.
Even though the STH was formed four years ago mainly to raise awareness on landslides, it has managed to set up an SMS-based early weather warning system and put in place automatic rainfall gauges in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong to continuously monitor rainfall.
The STH president regretted that even though the National Disaster Management Authority talked about a paradigm shift in disaster management from a relief-centric regime to one which believes in prevention and preparedness, the opposite is practiced at district and subdivisional levels.
“The district disaster management plan is nothing more than a contingency plan which lays down action by different government agencies in the event of a disaster,” he said.