Thursday, November 29, 2007

The answers (refers to the questions in the last post)

Lok Sabha

Geological Survey of India (GSI) is engaged in study of landslides and is carrying out three types of landslide investigations namely landslide hazard zonation (LHZ) on different scales, landslide inventory and site-specific study of landslide. LHZ is done following Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS) or modified BIS guidelines. Different type of investigation done by GSI is given below, state-wise:

LHZ on Macro Scale (1:50,000/25,000) : Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Sikkim, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya.

LHZ on Meso scale (1:10,000/5,000) : West Bengal, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Mizoram.

Landslide Inventory : Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Pondicherry and Tripura.

Site specific studies on landslide in all the states are undertaken as and when requested by the State Governments and Road Maintaining Authoriteis.

Studies for snow avalanches for few site specific areas based on the request from the local authorities has been carried out by GSI. As per Ministry of Defence, Snow Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) identifies avalanche prone areas and registers such sites.

The entire Himalayan mountainous region, Northeastern part of India, Western Ghats and Nilgiri Hills are the most landslide prone areas of the country. The landslide affected states are Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Sikkim, Goa, Karnataka, Mizoram, Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Meghalaya and Pondicherry.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has been constituted by the Government of India in 2005 to address the issue of mitigation of all types of natural disasters. GSI, declared as the Nodal Agency by the Government of India for any types of landslide study of the country, has already undertaken awareness generation programme not only for the State Government officials engaged in landslide hazard mitigation tasks but also for the affected communities living in the landslide prone hilly terrains.

Avalanche forecast bulletins for Area of Responsibility (AOR) are issued 36 hrs advance throughout the winter season by SASE/Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) assisted by Indian Meteorological Department. Remote Sensing Technology is being operationalised in view of large areas to be covered in AOR.

This information was given by Dr. T.Subbarami Reddy Minister of State for Mines in a written reply in the Lok Sabha today.



Contributed by

Vivek Chhetri


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Questions being asked in the Parliament on 28Nov2007

Placed below are excerpts from Question Hour in our Parliament today (Source :-

Study on Landslides and Avalanches


Will the Minister of MINES be pleased to state:

(a) whether the Geological Survey of India (GSI) has carried out any study with regard to landslides, snow avalanches, etc. in the country;

(b) if so, the details thereof, State-wise;

(c) the details of methodology used in carrying out the survey;

(d) whether the GSI has identified the most landslide, snow avalanche-prone areas in the country;

(e) if so, the details thereof, State-wise; and

(f) the steps taken/proposed to be taken by the Government to prevent occurrence of such incidents and reduce the damage to life and property?


Landslides/Snow Avalanches in the Country


Will the Minister of HOME AFFAIRS be pleased to state:

(a) whether the Government has made any study regarding natural calamities like landslides/snow avalanches in the States of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal as frequent blockage of National Highway creates problems in winter due to landslides/snow avalanches;

(b) if so, the details thereof;

(c) if not, the reasons therefor; and

(d) the steps taken by the Government in this regard?


Article contribution

Yusuf Simick


Comment by Praful Rao:-

It seems strange that some of the questions (highlighted in RED) are the very same ones that we are asking. The answers will be interesting.

An input from an engineer..

Niraj Lama has indeed raised some pertinent points, although I do not fully agree to some of his recommended solutions!

1.Re: Landslide-Zone Mapping. This was taken up by Darjeeling DM’s Office (perhaps during Mr. Verma’s time, who was also the Chief Principal Secretary of DGHC later on). I had attended one of their meetings 8-10 years ago, and there was a lady heading the Netaji Institute of Asian Studies then. I don’t know if causes of landslides in our hills had been pinpointed and specific recommendations arrived at on a micro level. However it will certainly be worthwhile to try and get hold of the relevant maps and reports either from the DM’s Office ( the Head Assistant there should know about this) or from Netaji Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata itself. Lets see if this can serve as a Base of sorts.

2.Re: Need for Relocation of people from identified vulnerable areas and Holistic Approach to Urban and Rural Development . This is a tough one! According to O’Malley’s Darjeeling District Gazetteer ,”when the British first acquired the hill territory in 1835, it was almost entirely under forest, and what small population it had, had been driven out by the oppression of the petty ruler whom they replaced. It was, in fact, estimated that the whole of this tract, comprising 138 square miles, contained only 100 souls.” He then goes on to say that due to Dr. Campbell’s (the first Superintendent) tireless effort to render Darjeeling the commercial centre of the hills, the population rapidly grew to 10,000 in 1850, 94,712 in 1871, 1,55,179 in 1881 and 2,23,314 in 1891, showing a staggering 43.4% during the decade 1981-91! According to Niraj, during the last decade if we are continuing to maintain an astounding growth rate of 40% in the Darjeeling town alone (Municipal Area?), then God help us! There is a blessing given by local Dewsey groups during Dewali which translates into “may your progeny increase and fill the hills” – are we taking this blessing too seriously? Steps must be taken to change such preposterous blessings to suit the times! I read somewhere that Darjeeling Town has the dubious distinction of having the highest population density in the world! If this is true, then it is high time that we sit up and take positive action. The town, which has an area of only 4.1 square miles, is surrounded by tea gardens, forest areas and steep unstable hills. Since it cannot expand outwards, there is no other option but to rise upwards, which explains the mushrooming of high-rise 5-8 storied concrete buildings, contravening Municipal Rules. We will have to take a holistic approach and find enough areas in the Khasmahals, Forests, defunct Tea Gardens and Wastelands suitable for setting up planned compact Satellite Townships to accommodate future urban growth and not forgetting balanced Regional Development to reduce unnecessary migration from our villages to the urban centres. IN ADDITION, THE GOVERNMENT OF WEST BENGAL CAN EXHIBIT ITS GENUINE INTEREST IN THE DARJEELING HILLS BY RECOMMENDING ONE OF THE MUNICIPALITIES FOR URBAN DEVELOPMENT AND REFORMS UNDER JAWAHARLAL NEHRU NATIONAL URBAN RENEWAL MISSION (JNNURM) IMMEDIATELY! I FAIL TO UNDERSTAND WHY DARJEELING HILL AREAS ARE NEGLECTED AND IGNORED WHEN IT COMES TO DEVELOPMENT MATTERS!!

3.Re: Maximim permissible height of buildings . An Expert Committee had been formed for framing Bye-laws for Municipalities coming under Government of West Bengal, of which I was also a Member along with (Late) Shasheesh Prasad and Mr. Tshering, Technical Adviser DGHC to represent the hills. It is true that we had fixed up 11.5 meters as the maximum permissible height of buildings in the hills of Darjeeling. This works out to37’9” – people still think in ‘feet’ and not in ‘meters’. An average floor height is 9’6”, so four stories would mean 38’0”- add to this 2’0’plinth height and the total height of the building will come to 40’0”. In view of the extreme scarcity of land in the hills, and for all practical purposes, a would-be house builder will undoubtedly go in for a 4-storied building and pay a fine for the excess height or bribe his way through. Thus 11.5m. or 37’9” is neither here nor there. Under the circumstances, I would suggest a realistic maximum height of 12.5m. (i.e. 41’0”) which would accommodate 4-stories plus plinth height, as opposed to 13.5m.(i.e. 44’3”) as desired by hill municipalities (which will actually extend to 5-stories)! Does that earn me the title of ‘Mentally Retarded’?

4.Re: Drainage System .The ‘Jhoras’ or natural hill streams form the backbone of our drainage system, but they are a neglected lot. In fact, it has been found that a majority of landslides during 2007 have been caused by ‘Jhora Erosion’. This is a massive problem – but where do we begin?. Since landslide protection has been the main plank for ‘save the hills’, I think we should start off by making a detailed inventory (supported by Mapping), of all the ‘jhoras’ within Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Kurseong Municipalities. It can be noticed that under natural conditions, rainwater partly infiltrates into the soil and is partly transported to the ‘jhoras’ as runoff. But in densely built-up areas within municipalities the infiltration part is reduced to a minimum, as entire lands are covered by buildings, roads, footpaths and cement plastered courtyards. As a result of this, additional runoff is created, which finally finds its way to the jhoras. This heavy inflow of runoff water often far exceeds the natural capacity of the jhoras, causing toe-erosion and landslides – small slips in the beginning, culminating in entire hill- slopes sliding down into the eroded jhoras with every passing monsoon. Careful insight into photographs in ‘savethehills’ website vividly show how dangerously close we all are in the hills of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong subdivisions to total disaster by landslides! The three hill municipalities of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong already have good manpower, databank, mapping and organizational structure. They can easily arrange adequate finances for the Mapping and Inventory Survey Works proposed above. We in savethehills, assisted by our supporting ‘Public Participation Units’, can ably assist them to complete the Survey and Mapping work done within the next 3 months, after which a Priliminary Action Plan can be prepared to face the next monsoon. This can be modified and fine-tuned for achieving better results in the coming years. Something is better than nothing, I presume!


Monday, November 26, 2007

Niraj's Notions : Landslide Hazard Darjeeling hills

I had requested all concerned people to send points/ suggestions/ demands which "savethehills" could collate, compile and put up to the Chief Minister (CM) on his visit to Darjeeling last week.
As we all know, the visit did not take place, nevertheless we aim to complete the process and FAX the document to the CM.
Mr Niraj Lama mailed me the article below, in response to the request.
To many, Niraj needs no introduction.
To those who don't know him he was a fiery, many a time acerbic and brilliant young journalist who worked for the Statesman for years. After quitting the Statesman some years ago, he now freelances.
I certainly request for more points from everyone concerned so that we can send an exhaustive list of suggestions/demands to the CM as regards landslide hazard in Darjeeling District within this week.
(With permit from the author, I have had to edit this article at places.)

praful rao

1) The government had spent a lot of money several years ago engaging Netaji Insitute of Asian Studies to come up with landslide-zone mapping. Several expensive-looking colourful templates used to be stuck up in the office of one deputy magistrate for a long time (they could still be on the wall). The logical follow-up should have been relocation of people from such zones, while at the same time preventing any new settlements to come up.
Relocation is not a politically-comfortable idea, but given the nature of our geography it has to be looked into. WE NEED RELOCATION OF PEOPLE FROM IDENTIFIED VULNERABLE AREAS.
No ration cards for those staying in declared dangerous areas.

2) Our population growth has been exponential. The growth in Darjeeling town was astounding 40% plus between the Census of 1990 and 2001; the rural scenario cannot be too different. Even to the eyes, the cover of human habitations is spreading rapidly on the erstwhile undisturbed hills sides. POPULATION GROWTH CONTROL NEEDS TO BE PRIORITIZED. Health and Family Welfare department along with NGOs should launch a 20-year campaign, starting with the new year.
Any man bearing more than two children must go and work in the sewage reconstruction in Baghdad.

3)The maximum permissible height for construction should be made 11. 5 m (proposed by the state government) as opposed to 13.5 m (as desired by the hill municipalities). Building laws should be strictly implemented. This is a fit case for PIL, because tall buildings are public hazards. Also people building, and officially approving, tall buildings in the hills are mentally retarded and liable to commit other public damages.

4)Drainage system including jhoras and roadside drains needs to be cleaned and well maintained.

5) Modern waste-disposal system should be installed in towns and large settlements.

6) Load on trucks should be strictly regulated for which there are already laws.

7)Some forest land and tea land needs to be resumed to accommodate the expansion of the urban areas in the hills (the taking of Chandmuni tea estate for Siliguri's expansion is a precedent).

8) Massive afforestation in the denuded watercatchment areas.

9) Replace 40 per cent of the tea gardens and cinchona with commercial private timber plantations.

8)Finally, we should come up with a Vision Statement. We could call it Darjeeling Hills 2030. It is difficult to move ahead effectively if we don't have concrete goals, and these goals should be holistic. Approaching a problem from a single perspective does not serve the purpose of development. DGHC, state government, Centre, expert bodies and local NGOs to work on this one.

Niraj Lama

Friday, November 23, 2007

A warning too costly to be ignored...

Placed below is a translation of an article which appeared in "BARTAMAN", a Bengali daily (Kolkatta edition) on Sat - 17Nov2007.
(The English may appear incorrect at places but this is only to keep the translation as accurate as possible)


A joint research team from India and Poland has recommended the lessening of population from Darjeeling and Gangtok. They suggested the development of new townships to decrease population pressure in these two towns. They also suggested the lessening of load on the Coronation bridge which was built during the British period. They have suggested to the W. Bengal and Sikkim state govts, the immediate construction of alternate routes to the existing Coronation bridge.

The combined Polish / Indian team has been studying this area for the last 20yrs. The coordinator of the Indian team Mr Subir Sarkar, geologist from North Bengal University said the entire report would be sent to the Centre and to W.Bengal Govt, thru North Bengal University.

The team had carried out their research work in Gangtok, Kurseong, Kalimpong, Malbazar, Oodlabari and in the landslide prone areas around Bagrakote.

Due to rampant urbanization the matter had become extremely serious and could no longer be ignored. Mr Subir said that in the next five years portions of road between Siliguri and Darjeeling, Teesta Bazar, Sevoke, Rambi and road from Lava to Damdim is in danger of being fully damaged. The pressure of increased population, unscientific methods of building construction and unplanned drainage system are causing the frequent landslides said Mr Subir.

Mr Subir said that since there is no free land in Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong, hence places like Sonada, Tiger Hill, and Ghoom where there is presently less pressure on land should be developed as alternative townships. Alternative townships to Gangtok is also necessary.

The team said that in these landslide prone areas, people should use scientific methods of construction. As an example he pointed out that in 1982, in the Darjeeling’s hill area of Chanmari, 2 people died due to landslides but presently their family members had reconstructed their houses in the same spot. In 1993 due to another landslide a person was killed in the same spot. The house was reconstructed at the same place and in 2002 a landslide took another life in the same family. The house has been rebuilt and the family is now still living in the same area.

Due to heavy traffic movement on the Coronation bridge its condition is extremely dangerous. To save the bridge the team suggested alternate routes like Damdim - Lava, Kalimpong - Rhenock, Bagrakote – Lolaygaon be improved and used.

Mr Subir cautioned that there would be a dreadful calamity in the hills if the pressure on the land is not addressed immediately.

praful rao

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Protest rally demanding preventive action against landslides by “savethehills” :20Nov2007 (1230hrs)

Please refer the earlier blog (1. Report on Meeting held at Trizum Hall on 17Nov2007 para b)

As per the decision in the above meeting, a fairly large group of affected/concerned people gathered at the Town Hall premises on 20Nov2007. (Slide 1).

After getting requisite permit from the concerned authorities the rally started from the Town Hall to the Damber Chowk, into the the motor stand and back. (Slides 2,3,4,5). The rally went to meet the DM at the SDO’s office (Slide 6).

All thru the rally, including at the SDO’s office, slogans were chanted that mere post disaster “relief” measures not enough and that preventive actions was required, the government was asked to wake up to this fact.

A few members of the group met the SDO, Mr PT Sherpa (WBCS) who said the DM had not come to Kalimpong because he was unwell. A letter asking the DM to arrange a meeting with the Chief Minister (when he visited Darjeeling) was handed over to him (which was faxed to the DM immediately).

A short meeting was held with the SDO where it was requested that:-

a) The SDO arrange a meeting with all departments (such as soil conservation, irrigation social forestry and so on) involved in disaster prevention where representative of savethehills would also attend.

b) Representative of “savethehills” be allowed to meet Geological Survey of India team which was scheduled to visit Kalimpong in Dec2007.

c) The SDO was also asked to intervene directly to get “savethehills” an appointment with the CM.

Later, a meeting was held at the Town Hall where the people who took part in the rally were requested to keep in touch with the organizers so that as and when the permission to meet the CM was granted, at least 10-15 vehicles full of affected people would go to Darjeeling to demonstrate the urgency and concern to the Chief Minister.

praful rao

Monday, November 19, 2007


1. Report on Meeting held at Trizum Hall on 17Nov2007

The meeting commenced at 1100hrs with approx 100 persons attending from various organizations. The meeting was organized by Himalayan Farmer’s Front under the “savethehills” banner.


a) It was decided that representatives from “savethehills” would meet the Chief Minister (CM) Mr Buddhadev Bhattacharya when he came to Darjeeling on the 23Nov2007.

In order to do this, 5-8 persons from the gathering met theSDO Mr PT Sherpa at his residence immediately after the meeting and submitted a written request to arrange a meeting with the CM in Darjeeling.

The SDO however said that the District Magistrate (DM) was visiting Kalimpong on 20Nov2007 and he suggested that “savethehills” meet the DM directly and request him to do the needful.

b) It was decided that while a selected few from “savethehills” would meet the DM on 20Nov2007- clubs, NGOs and village organizations would be requested to send representatives to a selected venue (the Townhall, Kalimpong) at 1200hrs after which the group would proceed to the SDO’s office as a show of solidarity and urgency.

c) It was also decided to hold a seminar in Kalimpong on the landslide situation at a later date involving all NGOs, Govt depts and concerned citizens.

A press brief was given on the above.

2) Photo Exhibition

We are trying to work on a photo exhibition in Darjeeling and Kalimpong around the 10Dec2007 on the recent landslides. The idea was earlier mooted by my young firend Roshan Rai of Anugyalay and I think it would be a good way of spreading awareness about the gravity of the landslide situation amongst the public since most are not even aware of the scale of the near disaster in Sep2007.

I wonder whether anyone in Kurseong/ Mirik would be interested?

praful rao

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Excerpt fromTelegraph (17Nov2007)

Having posted the earlier blog (A narrow escape..) I was browsing thru when I came across this article which coincidentally talks about same topic - category IV cyclone Sidr..
Here it is:-

How Bengal escaped Sidr
- Devastation in Bangladesh, Met officials justify alarm

New Delhi, Nov. 16: Scientists today attributed the shift of Cyclone Sidr towards Bangladesh to factors long known to influence cyclone paths, but asserted that its scale and severity justified the warnings issued to Bengal.

India Meteorological Department officials said they had anticipated an eastward shift which began about three hours before the cyclone hit Bangladesh about 80km east of the initially predicted landfall zone.

The 250kmph winds killed around 600 people in Bangladesh, left thousands injured or missing, flattened houses and unleashed a 15-foot tidal surge that destroyed three coastal towns and forced the evacuation of 32 lakh people. Unofficial reports put the toll above 1,000.

Three factors could have contributed to the shift — Earth’s rotation, the interaction of the cyclone’s outermost winds with land just as they began to graze the coastline and high-altitude winds called the westerlies.

“A (cyclonic) system in the northern hemisphere’s atmosphere is deflected slightly towards the east because of Earth’s rotation,” said H.R. Hathwar, additional director-general of the IMD. “As it neared the coast, the balance of the cyclonic system could have been disturbed and caused the winds to change direction a bit.”

Scientists are yet to fathom the mechanics of these land-wind interactions, but the tendency of cyclones in the northern Bay of Bengal to veer towards Bangladesh indicates that the effects are consistent over time.

The cyclone may also have come under the influence of long-range winds blowing from west to east called the westerlies.

Yesterday, the IMD had initially predicted landfall (the cyclone hitting land) at 89°E longitude on the Bengal-Bangladesh border. But it struck the coast at 89.8°E, about 80km eastwards.

This is within the acceptable error margin when dealing with an event on the scale of a cyclone, a scientist said.

“A cyclone has dimensions of 300km to 500km (Sidr had a 450km diameter), and an 80km shift would still mean severe winds on either side of the border,” said Mrutyunjaya Mahapatra, director, cyclone warning division, IMD.

Scientists used a synthesis of satellite imagery, ground data and a weather radar in Calcutta to track the cyclone and wind speeds. Despite the eastward shift, parts of Bengal experienced 90kmph winds that damaged over 1,000 thatched houses in North and South 24-Parganas.

Predictions that Bengal would be hit had led many tourists to cancel or truncate seaside trips and software companies to arrange guesthouse rooms for staff. Some people suggested the Met office should have issued hourly bulletins instead of a sweeping cyclone forecast.

“The warning was justified because such high-speed winds had the potential to cause extensive damage,” Hathwar said. “In such situations… it’s better to be overcautious.”

The weather radar is mainly used for real-time wind tracking and “nowcasting” — forecasting for the next two to three hours. But a Met warning issued two-three hours before a cyclone strikes would be too late for evacuation or effective public advisories.


A narrow escape..

On 15Nov2007, supercyclone Sidr slammed into Bangladesh at around 6.30pm local time. Within hours it left approx 250 people dead despite large scale evacuation by the Bangladeshi authorities.
It was just our good luck (and bad luck for those in the east of the country) that after striking Bangladesh the cyclone veered off to the east rather than continue on its earlier northerly course.
Being situated in a part of the country which is susceptible to such hazards it is all the more imperative for us to bolster our defenses and ratchet up our preventive measures against landslides.

(satellite images are from

praful rao

Friday, November 16, 2007

New posts from Darjeeling

Posted from

thanx to Mr Swaroop Charmling and "Cold Mountain"

Is something is moving?

A rather diverse crowd met under the broad aegis of “savethehills” (organized by the Himalayan Farmer’s Front (HFF), Kalimpong)

The issue - landslides caused by the Sep2007 rains

The meeting began by Mr Yusuf Simick of Farmer’s Front requesting Wg Cdr Praful Rao (retd) to give a presentation on the landslide scenario.

This was done by him highlighting the fact that in Sep2007, the Chief Minister of Sikkim had spoken to the Prime Minister(Chairman, National Disaster Management Authority) about the landslide situation in Sikkim (as per the 06Nov2007 Telegraph report) whereas in the immediate vicinity ie Darjeeling district, both the State Authorities and the DGHC had taken no action whatsoever.

There followed a long discussion amongst the members on the landslide situation and how best to get the Govt / DGHC to take preventive measures at least in the critical areas since the time available was only the dry season (from Dec-May).

Some of the speakers who took part were:-

a) Mr Norden Hishey –rep HFF

b) Mr Mohan Pandey- Agronomist

c) Mr Anmol Prasad- Lawyer

d) Mr UM Pradhan- Civil Engineer

e) Mr PT Bhutia- “save NH31” committee

f) Mr OB Das- Red Cross, Kalimpong

g) Mr Yusuf Simick - rep HFF


a) “savethehills” would be a campaign by the people to draw the attention of the Govt / DGHC / Media to the destruction caused by the landslides in 2007 and the necessity of preventive rather than post disaster action ie RELIEF.

b) All action would be taken under savethehills banner which would be an apolitical people’s movement devoted (for the time being) to hasten preventive action against landslides by the concerned DGHC / Govt departments since the time available was extremely limited(5months).

c) In order to achieve the above, it was decided that a multipronged attack aimed at mobilizing the Govt / DGHC / Media and so on, was necessary.

d) Since the Chief Minister of West Bengal was visiting Darjeeling on the 23Nov2007, a point was mooted that a group of people from savethehills could meet him and present a memorandum.

e) It was decided to hold a much larger emergency meeting under savethehills banner on Sat, 17Nov2007, at Trizum Hall, Kalimpong to ratify/change the above (point ‘d’) and chart out the future course of action.


Comment by Praful Rao

I am glad to inform you that awareness about the landslide problem is growing here in Kalimpong; there are quite a few meetings where it is being discussed, the local press is covering it well and even our educational institutions are giving this topic as assignments to their students.

This is a welcome change because only an alert public can coerce an inactive government into action.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A small step in the right direction

Minutes of the meeting organised by the Indian Red Cross Society, Kalimpong Branch on the 12/11/2007 at Trysem hall, B.D.O. Office, Kalimpong

1) The meeting was Chaired by Mr. Ganesh Mani Pradhan

2) The following were present:-
Mr. K.N. Pradhan, President Rotary Club of Kalimpong, Mr. O.B. Das of Secreatry, Red Cross Society, Kalimpong Branch,Mrs. Sanjogita Subba, President Hotel and Restaurant Association of Kalimpong (HORAK),Samsher Ali, President Piranha Club, KAlimpong, Mr. B.K. Chettri, Convenor, Krishi Kalyan Sanghatan,Dr HB Chettri, Dr. D.P. Pandey,Mr. P.T. Lama,President Bhalukhop Dev Committee,Ms Gayatri Kharel- Structural Engineer, Miss Iva and Ila Pandey of Kanchenjunga Integrated Development Society (KIDS), Dawa Pemba Sherpa, Sudeep Sunar, Puran Prakash Chettri, Lendup Norgay Bhutia, , Mrs Preeti Rai.

3) Wg Cdr P. Rao (retd) gave a detailed report about the various landslide affected areas he had visited along with other members of various organisations. He further appraised the members present about his meeting with the Principal Secretary, Disaster Management, Govt of W Bengal on 02Nov2007 and the correspondence with the Governor of West Bengal, D.M and other officials and organizations. He stressed the necessity of identifying critical hazard areas and doing preventive work in these areas before the onset of the next monsoons.

4) An open discussion was initiated in the house to find out ways to address the current situation and find out ways to solve the same.

5) The members present resolved that:

a) SavetheHills would be the nodal forum under which all the different organizations would work to act as pressure groups to get preventive work done by Govt/DGHC. Mr. O.B. Das was requested to be the convenor for the time being of this adhoc organization.
b) Ms Gayatri Kharel- Structural Engineer would try and request Dr RK Bhandari, Chairman Centre for Disaster Mitigation and Management, Vellore and a national authority on landslides to visit Kalimpong.
c) KIDS would continue with their awareness programme at Schools and village levels.
d) Dr HB Chettri said he would take the responsibility to spread awareness amongst the grass root levels through extensive coverage in the local Nepali news media.

Dr DP Pandey


Comment by Praful Rao

I think this meeting is welcome move.
Tomorrow we have another biggish meeting here in Kalimpong organized by the Himalayan Farmer's Front in the Town Hall where NGOs, people from landslide affected areas around Kalimpong and the Press will be interacting.
I wonder whether something similar is happening in Darjeeling/Kurseong or any other parts of the district?
If not, may I request anyone who is from these areas to take up the cudgel start organizing these meetings so that we can tell the Govt/DGHC that we are NOT interested in HAM radios or plastic sheets or chewra AFTER a landslide; what we are interested in is positive, pre-emptive steps to prevent landslides!

Monday, November 12, 2007

A study in contrasts

Telegraph (Siliguri edition) 06Nov2007.
In September, Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling had requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to send a central team to the state. Chief secretary N.D. Chingapa followed it up by meeting officials of the Prime Minister’s Office and the cabinet secretariat later.

In October, the state government submitted a memorandum to the central relief commissioner in the ministry of home affairs. It included a damage assessment made by the state land revenue and disaster management department.

On the one hand, the landslide situation in September 2007 was viewed serious or grave enough by a Chief Minister of a state to speak directly to the Prime Minister, who is after all the Chairman of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)- the Apex Body for Disaster Management in India.
Would a Chief Minister take such a drastic step unless the situation was really grim?

Right next door in Darjeeling district, where the situation was as serious if not worse, no one in the State Administration nor the DGHC stirred.
I know of a prominent NGO which around 10Sept2007 was searching for any consolidated report on the landslide situation from the Govt- finding none, they forwarded the Survey Report made by savethehills which is on this blogsite (blog entry dated 14Sept2007) to their head office.
In any case, having met the Principal Secretary, Disaster Management, Govt of W Bengal on 02Nov2007 (blog entry dated 03Nov2007), I am quite sure that the neither the Govt of W Bengal nor the district administration think anything grave happened in Sep2007 which warrants any immediate action here in Darjeeling district.

So in mid Nov2007, whereas repairs to roads have started in many places in the district, I am not aware of any work which has commenced with regard to prevention/mitigation of landslides (repair/cleaning/strengthening of our drainage systems or jhoras etc in the short term) and the count down has begun -
we have 5 months to go before the monsoons come right back with a vengeance!

praful rao

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A personal perspective

So we have finally hit the “Bureaucratic Wall”, which is near impossible to penetrate ! Congratulations to all of us! This should give us more impetus to break the wall down.

Dushera celebrations are just over, but the bright lights of Dewali are round the bend. The yawning cracks on the roads have been filled up and the fresh scars of the recent landslides are now covered with greenery. The blue skies are back again but political turmoil is silently brewing, threatening to disturb the peace and tranquility of the hills. Tourists who had come to enjoy the beauty of our hills are fleeing and potential tourists have cancelled their bookings. Politicians and their henchmen are busy sharpening their blunt khukuris and the poor common man in the streets and villages, surrounded by insecurity and uncertainty, is confused, worried and wondering from where his next meal will come from! In the midst of all these quick developments, the scary landslides of September 2007 have all but been forgotten!

The great philosopher George Bernhard Shaw had once said – “We learn from history that we don’t learn anything from history!” Me thinks that he is absolutely right. We seem to be a cursed lot, going round and round in endless circles of domination, damnation and doom! Isn’t it a shame that after 60 years of India’s Independence, we are still finding ourselves in “Square One” – groping hopelessly in the dark!

Sorry for the emotional outburst – but I think every one of us feel that way. Coming back to the landslides, I strongly feel that, frustrating as it is, we must not give up. I would like to suggest the following strategy :

1.We must recognize that at the present juncture, we cannot expect anything concrete, or anything at all, from the State Government, Central Government, DGHC, Municipalities and other such Agencies and Departments. They will only be passing the buck and sending us out on a wild goose chase.
2.God helps those who help themselves. Right now, nobody from outside will be willing to stick out his or her neck and spend time and energy to genuinely understand our problems and help us out. If at all they will be speaking from the mouth and not from their hearts, as they are not the affected persons or stakeholders. We will have to help ourselves.
3.Disaster management in Landslides is a relatively new field, unlike floods and earthquakes. Not much is known technically about landslides, why they happen and what can be done to prevent them. This is perhaps why only some relief and no remedial measures have been taken by the Governments. So we will have to undertake some pioneering works (from the actual fields or from the Net and other sources) and feed the data to our Governments who are perhaps the only ones who can take large-scale preventive measures. Of course, the Governments and their various Departments and Agencies should be taking the proactive lead in advance, rather than waiting for disasters to happen first and thereafter acting on ham-radio messages seeking help (this is a ridiculous proposition)! But over the years, we as members of the public have not played a positive role and are ourselves to blame - because of which we get the Governments we deserve!
4.We must realize that there cannot be a simple solution to very complex technical problems that involve landslide prevention. Over and above this, we also have to face other nagging difficulties like Dual Control of Administration by State Government and DGHC; Political disturbances caused by warring factions, leading to nowhere; frustrated or unconcerned Government officials passing the buck; massive financial constraints and what have you!
So we cannot expect miracles to happen overnight – it is going to be a long drawn deliberate problem solving process, with multifaceted dimensions.

5.The “savethehills” blogsite has already played a major role in creating awareness and will continue to attract many more useful comments from all over. I think we should now form a Core Group of smart, concerned people from appropriate fields and have regular “Brain-Storming Sessions BSS” at least once a week focusing on Landslide Prevention – we badly need a Geologist though. We must prepare a Comprehensive Report as early as possible, that will indicate possible short, medium and long-term solutions. A nephew of mine hailing from Kalimpong, Pawan Pradhan, is Director of Technology Applications & Integration, SKIDATA Inc in the USA. He is willing to extend whatever help he can and participate in this great venture.

6.We must hold on to His Excellency, the Governor of West Bengal Mr. Gandhi, who will certainly lend us full support to push through this vital Project for saving our fragile hill areas. We can move through him and take his guidance.

Mr U.M. Pradhan,

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Children of a lesser god ?

Here is an excerpt from the Telegraph (Siliguri edition) 06Nov2007.
Central team in Sikkim
- Officials arrive to assess damage caused by rains

Gangtok, Nov. 5: An inter-ministerial central team is in Sikkim to assess the damage caused by rains this year.

Landslides, triggered by rain, had killed and injured people and damaged houses and property across the state (see chart). NH31A, the main road linking Sikkim to the rest of the country, was also cut off in many places.

The six-member central team is led by R.P. Nath, the joint secretary (administration) in the ministry of home affairs, and has representatives from the Planning Commission and the finance ministry as well as departments of land resources, road transport and drinking water supply.

Yesterday, after the members arrived, they met officials of the Sikkim roads and bridges department who made a presentation on the current situation in the state. This morning, they dispersed in three smaller teams to tour North, West and South districts. They will return tomorrow to visit East Sikkim.

In September, Sikkim chief minister Pawan Chamling had requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to send a central team to the state. Chief secretary N.D. Chingapa followed it up by meeting officials of the Prime Minister’s Office and the cabinet secretariat later.

In October, the state government submitted a memorandum to the central relief commissioner in the ministry of home affairs. It included a damage assessment made by the state land revenue and disaster management department.

According to this assessment, the total damage in the state because of rain this year was Rs 94.41 crore. It does not include the damage to NH31A, which is being assessed independently by the National Highways Authority of India and the Border Roads Organisation, which maintains it.

A central team arrives in Sikkim from Delhi to assess the damage caused by the Sep2007 rains because the Chief Minister has spoken to the Prime Minister; whereas in the immediate vicinity and adjacent hills ie Darjeeling district, even our local officials and "VIPs" have not toured the affected areas (many of which have been shown on this website for 2 months now) and which in all probability are in a worse condition than those areas where the central team will be taken to in Sikkim.
What irony!!

But I am thrilled that this team is in Sikkim because it validates what we at "savethehills" have been saying all along "that our district suffered a silent disaster".

High time we woke up and helped ourselves folks, because sadly no one is going to ask that high powered team to hop across to Darjeeling, Kurseong or Kalimpong and assess the damage here...

praful rao

Monday, November 5, 2007

Copy of letter handed over to the Principal Secretary (PS), Disaster Management, Govt of W Bengal on 02No2007


The Principal Secretary,

Disaster Management,

Govt. of West Bengal

Preventive/Mitigation measures in management of landslide disasters in the Darjeeling hills

Dear Sir,

In keeping with the Prime Minister’s words regarding a 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”, (PM’s inaugural address in the first Disaster Management Congress, New Delhi, 29-30Nov2006) it is necessary to put in place preventive and mitigation measures to minimize loss of life and property in the event of landslides in the Darjeeling hills.

Therefore, rather than merely stating the obvious as the Darjeeling district administration has done in its website ( – (Due to landslides) “ The future of the Darjeeling hill areas does not look very bright” – it is imperative to work towards finding a meaningful solution to the problem since unlike earthquakes, to quote the Vellore Declaration 2006 on Indian landslides , “many types of landslides could be avoided or prevented and catastrophes averted through instrumentation, vigil, healthy slope management practices and landslide education”.

The administration is, therefore requested to:-

  1. Identify critical and vulnerable landslide zones which if unattended to may in the future monsoons lead to loss of life and property.
  2. Investigate the cause of landslides in these areas (which in many cases simply boils down to drainage problems or jhora training).
  3. Take immediate preventive measures in these areas on a war footing so as to avert/ reduce landslides as far as possible.

Along with these firefighting measures it will also be necessary to develop a policy/strategy to tackle the serious problem of landslides in the long-term in keeping with all the facets of “Disaster Management” (as defined in the Disaster Management Act 2005) in mind. This, obviously, will require a lot of funds to flow in. Therefore, adequate safeguards must be in place to check corruption and ensure correct and effective utilization of funds.

In Sep2007, we escaped a near disaster. This is borne out by the body of evidence that is available in terms of hillsides which are sliding down, mountains which have developed fissures, farmlands which are devastated and buildings which are cracked and in danger of collapsing; to some extent these areas have been photographed and reports are available on

In all this, it may require the intervention of not only the government agencies such as the GSI, but NGOs and most importantly the public who will have to participate jointly in trying to prevent landslides since landslides like all disasters are also a social issue.

The essence of disaster management should therefore be anticipating and proactively trying to prevent/reduce hazard due to landslides while being fully prepared for rescue, relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Unless these steps are taken with the utmost of seriousness and resolve, landslides will continue to extract insufferable toll in these hill areas.

The above letter was handed over in person to both the PS and the DM, Darjeeling by the undersigned at the end of our meeting with them at Circuit House, Darjeeling

praful rao

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Report on the meeting with Mr A Purkayastha (IAS), Principal Secretary, Disaster Management, Govt of West Bengal on 02Nov2007

The meeting was held at the Circuit House, Darjeeling.

The following were present:-

a) Mr A Purkayastha (IAS), Principal Secretary (PS), Disaster Management, Govt of West Bengal.

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, Darjeeling.

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.

praful rao

Friday, November 2, 2007

Sindebung - a decade of neglect

Sindebung straddles the underbelly of Kalimpong town and it used to consist of some of the most fertile pieces of farmland close to town - "used to" because today much of the that land has been wasted by the many jhoras (waterways/rivulets) which plough through the fertile farmland.

Consequently land prices have plummeted in Sindebung and you meet many a gaunt, haggard farmer who has lost his only source of income to landslides.
In my many meanderings during the course of the last month or so, I have found that nothing really is as simple as it looks...
you see, Kalimpong town consists of a huge concrete and asphalt area sitting on a ridge and the entire rain water from this area obviously cannot percolate into the soil and so flows into drains as surface run off water.

So the massive amount of rain water from the built-up town areas during the monsoons runs off the surface and drains either into
a) Teesta river valley or
b) Relli river valley

Unfortunately, our municipal drains do not and perhaps CANNOT continue all the way down to the Teesta or Relli rivers so all of them terminate into jhoras...

And that is where the problem begins..

so the same innocuous, gentle mountain brooks of yesteryear have now become voracious, land-crunching, giant jhoras of today fuelled by the surface run–off rain water from not only Kalimpong town but so many little satellite town ships and villages around town.

And more population means

a) more built up areas ie more water going into our jhoras

b) and the more “untrained” jhoras means more areas becoming susceptible to landslides.

From my talks with many people even those in Govt departments, I have learnt that no “training” of jhoras has been undertaken in the Sindebung area for a decade or more because of "lack of funds"; consequently more and more fertile farmland is turning into barren wasteland.

well, that had better change soon, otherwise in not too many years from now, Kalimpong town will also go the Sindebung way

I place here a photographic study of the problem

a) Slide 1- Kalimpong town and below it - the Sindebung landslides (viewed from the opposite hill ie Kankebung)

b) Slide 2 - direction of rain water drainage from the built up areas of Kalimpong town (yellow arrows) which add to the volume of water in our jhoras (blue arrows) causing huge landslides in Sindebung.

c) Slide 3 - the size of the Sindebung slides

d) Slide 4- closeup of a landslide and the jhora responsible - Sindebung, Kalimpong

d) Slide 5 – farmlands which will disappear within the next 5 years or so, if we do not address these problems

(For those with broad band kindly lookup these areas in google earth or wikimapia)

praful rao