Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Media coverage:

The Telegraph coverage of the Landslide awareness workshop conducted by STH yesterday is placed below:-

NGO fills govt boots in fight against landslides

Kalimpong, Jan. 29: A few concerned residents, under the banner of Save the Hills, are trying to find ways to fight landslides in Kalimpong, a problem skirted by the powers-that-be.

Over the past two days, the residents hosted a team of students from the North Bengal University’s one-year post-graduate diploma programme in disaster management and gave them a detailed account of the havoc caused by landslides in Kalimpong in September last year.

The team had eight students, accompanied by the department head Sanjay Rana.

The team was taken to a few landslide-hit areas like Elainchikhop, Bhalukhop, Dalapchand and 14th Mile. Save the Hills also conducted a workshop where its president Praful Rao made a power-point presentation for the benefit of the students.

“Some of the students will incorporate what they have learnt during this field trip in their project reports, which they have to prepare in the second semester of their course,” said Rana.

The objective behind the visit, said Rana, was to enable the students to get a first-hand experience of landslides and gather technical inputs.

The students, on their part, said the visit was of immense benefit to them.

“Lack of drainage, haphazard construction and poor soil character seemed to be the main causes of the landslides. What was also noticeable was that the people were not sufficiently aware of the problem,” said Preeti Gurung, a student.

In fact, the students were so moved by Save the Hill’s work on landslides that some of them have made a commitment to support the NGO in whatever way they can.

“We will be writing to authorities concerned and, maybe, even hold a seminar on the issue in our university,” said Gurung.

Rana confirmed that he was toying with the seminar idea.

The NGO has expressed unhappiness over the complete lack of initiative from government agencies to tackle the problem.

“Despite writing to so many agencies, we have found no evidence of any preventive work being done on the ground. The situation remains exactly the same as it was in September. This is scary because the monsoon is only about four-five months away,” said Rao.

The NGO has been tirelessly campaigning about the threat since the September landslides. It has already conducted three workshops.

“Despite receiving little response from agencies concerned, we will keep espousing the cause because, quite simply, our future is at stake here,” said the president of the NGO.

On September 7, 2007, five persons had died in the Kalimpong subdivision after incessant rain triggered a series of landslides in the area.

praful rao

Landslide awareness workshop with North Bengal University students

Landslide awareness workshop by savethehills (STH) with Post Graduate Diploma (Disaster Management) students from the Centre for Development Studies, University of North Bengal.

9 Students (inclusive of 3 girls) and the technical officer Dr Sanjay Rana (PhD) of North Bengal University were in Kalimpong on the 28/29Jan2008 as a part of a field visit during the diploma course.

On 28 Jan, the day was largely spent at Alaichikhop and Chota Bhalukhop, where the students were shown the damage caused by the Sep2007 rains in these areas. They interacted with the people of affected areas, took photographs and made notes. Possible causes of the slides were discussed with both the people of the areas and STH and the possible long and short term solutions were considered.

Later in the evening, Wg Cdr Praful Rao (retd) of STH gave a presentation on “The Silent Disaster” ie the landslide devastation of Sep2007. The other resource persons who spoke during the course of the evening were, Mr Bharat Mani Pradhan, Member STH, Dr Kishore Thapa (PhD) environmental activist, Mr Bishnu Chhetri, Secretary Farmer’s Club and Member STH and Dr Sanjay Rana.

On 29Jan2008, the whole team visited many landslide affected areas in the vicinity of Kalimpong town between 0830 to approx 1230hrs. At all places the students interacted with locals and asked them whether the government had started any preventive work.

On the whole what was clearly evident was the total absence of any type of landslide prevention work in all the areas visited.

The landslide awareness workshop ended at 1300hrs with the students volunteering to be a part of STH (which was more than welcome) and saying they would spread awareness at the University level and also contribute articles when possible.

This is the third such workshop held by STH - the earlier two sessions being conducted with Rotary Club (refer 07Dec07 post) and with school children (refer 08Jan08 post).

praful rao

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Decades of neglect..and the wages of sin

Chibo bustee, Kalimpong, Darjeeling district is a place about which I have written earlier (refer blog of 04Oct2007) but ask any geologist or layman about Chibo and the answer is the same:- it is an old ("purano"in Nepali) sinking area.
Only, some geologists who visited the area decades ago throw their hands up in dismay since none of their recommendations made years ago has been implemented and the situation has only gone from bad to worse.
The unfortunate part in all this is that, the village comprises of approx 5000 people living in 1200 houses or so which are spread over a large farming area and as the photographic evidence (of Jan2008) shows much of the area is doomed UNLESS comprehensive landslide prevention measures are taken urgently.
Three large mountain rivulets (jhoras or kholas in this case) and a large number small tributaries plough thru the Chibo/Pashyor area.
The biggest and most destructive is Magar khola/jhora (labelled 'C' in slide 1). The damage done by this jhora is immense and threatens the entire Pashyor region. When I visited Pashyor (refer blog of 23Oct2007) in Oct07, large parts of this area showed signs of imminent destruction.
The other two big jhoras which ravage Chibo are Chibo School khola (labelled 'B' in slide 1) and Paireni khola (labelled 'A' but which unfortunately cannot be seen in the photograph).
Chibo school khola and its tributaries, after chewing up a large section of middle Chibo ends up at Chitrey where it has severely damaged National Highway 31(NH31) and the Teesta - Kalimpong road (just before joining the Teesta river as a tributary.)
Suffice it to say that NOTHING has been done by way of preventive work against landslides in this whole area for decades and what this entire area faces is nothing short of extinction in the foreseeable future.
What could have been achieved by timely intervention will now require a huge injection of funds and a comprehensive approach which will look at the drainage problem, afforestation, farming methods and land usage, impact of human settlements on the land and so on...
Slide 2 shows a close up of Magar jhora/khola and the destruction it has caused; slide 3 shows the situation at Chitrey where the Chibo school jhora has severly breached part of NH31 and also threatens the road from Teesta to Kalimpong.

praful rao

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Some wonderful news

In my meanderings since the last monsoons (Sep2007), not over mountains but on the internet and while leafing thru pamphlets and magazines one name which came up very often was that of Leszek Starkel. Then I came across "Rains, landslides and Floods in the Darjeeling Himalaya", a book published by the Indian National Science Academy and co-edited by Professors N Sathyamurthy, S Basu and L Starkel.
To cut a long story short, Professor Leszek Starkel is a full member of the Dept of Geomorphology and Hydrology, Institute of Geography and Spatial Org, Polish Academy of Sciences, Krakow, Poland. He is the recipient of numerous international awards and leading international authority in this field. He has been studying landslides in this part of the world for many decades.
I sent him an email some time back and got a reply from him a few days ago.
I reproduce a part of the Professor's reply below:-

Dear Mr Rao,

Before Christmas I got your mail with long set of information
about landslides and activity of your team in Kalimpong. I am very
impressed by your work and I am ready to cooperate with STH
I arrived first time to Darjeeling district in 1968 after
catastrophic rain and surveyed many landslides in Darjeeling and
Kurseong division. In last years I try to come every year. In 2004
with prof. S.R.Basu from Calcutta I conducted an international
seminar on landslides till Gangtok. I continuosly monitor great
Ambootia landslide. Last November with prof. S.Sarkar from NBU
we continued studies on floods in Doars from Lish-Gish-Chel upto
Torsa and Jainti rivers. I know that near Upper Phagu and Bagrakot
were formed new slides but I was on the way to Meghalaya and
had no time to go there. Very important are the rainfall records
(daily!) from September 2007 and I would be glad to receive them
from Darj. Planters Assoc.
I hope to come again in November this year to India and I
suggest to meet you in Kalimpong and Darjeeling.

With kind regards



I am glad that a leading international figure appreciates the work of savethehills.

praful rao

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A warning ignored

Placed below is an excerpt from the Telegraph newspaper today (the article is about a devastating fire which took place in Kolatta yesterday in the Burra bazar area) :-
134 wake-up calls, all on deaf ears

Calcutta, Jan. 12: If only the fire services department had acted on any of the 134 appeals from a tenant in Jamunalal Bajaj Street, between July 2004 and September 2005, today’s fire at the Nandaram market complex may have been averted.

“There is a fire waiting to happen here… Through The Telegraph we would like to appeal to all concerned to act before it is too late,” wrote Suresh Somani on February 4, 2007.

Somani had petitioned every senior official in the fire department. He had written to fire minister Pratim Chatterjee six times, emailed him 10 times, faxed him 20 times and visited him seven times to highlight the tragedy waiting to happen in Burrabazar. He had paid 50 visits to the director-general of fire services, besides writing him five letters and sending 20 faxes.....

In all, Somani had sent 77 letters, emails and faxes to officials in the fire services department and visited them 57 times, all within 14 months.

“We fear official help will only come to us after a disaster happens,” Somani had written.

That disaster happened early today, in the buildings adjoining Somani’s.

“Hundreds of people have lost their only source of livelihood in the fire. If only the authorities had heard our pleas,” lamented Somani.


It is ironic that we in the hills are facing an identical situation today. With approx 5 months after the last monsoons and and equal time before the next one:-

a) We have posted photographs, reports and stories about the near disaster we suffered in Sept2007 on this blog and in many other sites.

b) The media has covered the issue ad nauseam.

c) We have written to the local authorities (District Magistrate and the Chief Principal Secretary, DGHC) a number of times to which all we have received a wall of silence.

d) We have alerted the highest levels in the state govt and even written to the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM).

e) We have held a demonstration demanding preventive action against landslides

f) We have shown the evidence to scientists from the Geological Survey of India (GSI).

Yet nothing worthwhile has happened on the ground. With barely 4 months to go for the next monsoons, "schemes" are still being submitted to the District Authorities for "approval" and I ,for one, am sure that some areas which I have seen will certainly are the people whose houses are located in those areas.
It is ironic that the only people who don't believe this are those who are sitting in plush offices surrounded by their fawning minions.

It is a pity that in Sep2008 one may once again read another Headline in the Telegraph saying
"Wake-up call, falls on deaf ears"

praful rao

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

08Jan2008: A day well spent (at Kalimpong)

ATREE (Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment), Darjeeling (supported by the Ministry of Environment and Forests) has organized a 30 day Vacation Program on Natural Resources for school children. The children are camping at the Agri-Horticulture Demo Farm run by the Cluny Sisters, at Pudung, Kalimpong and under the charge of Ms Reena Chhetri of Darjeeling. 34 children from schools in Darjeeling and Kalimpong are attending the program.

Reena had given me a one day slot for the landslide awareness workshop and the day began at 0900hrs with a power point presentation in the class room. Thereafter, after an early lunch, the entire day was spent visiting a number of landslide zones in and around Kalimpong in 3 vehicles hired for the purpose.

The children interacted with affected people, saw for themselves the devastation caused by the Sep2007 rains and were shown jhora training work.Both in and out of the class room many, many issues relating to climate change and protection of the environment were discussed. All in all the children enjoyed themselves.

However, besides the enjoyment factor, I am satisfied that at the end of the day I left behind 34 young ambassadors of savethehills who are aware of the fragility of our beautiful mountains and the urgent need to protect it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A comment to put us to shame

This is a one liner I received from one of the many people who correspond with me regarding the landslide issue:-

"may the new year move the apathy of people more than it has moved the mountains downhill..."

what a pity!

and we have just 4 months to go

praful rao