Monday, May 26, 2008

" remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all..."- Elie Wiesel

What never ceases to amaze me is :-

  • We live barely 1000km north of an area (the Bay of Bengal) where the deadliest cyclones brew in this part of the year. In the past 6 months cyclone SIDR snuffed out 15,000 lives in Bangladesh and last month NARGIS broke records by killing more than 100,000 in Burma.
    Nothing really stops these monsters from blowing our way!

  • Not withstanding the above we live in an area which receives around the heaviest rainfall in the world, annually 3000mm which is around 10 feet of rain!

  • Partly because of this, as per Geological Survey of India (GSI) we live in the most landslide prone part of the country (and maybe the world!)

  • We also live in Earthquake zone IV

  • Our drainage system is virtually what the Britishers left us with. If anything even that is in a state of disrepair and certainly no new drains have come up in the last 20years.

  • Our forest cover is drastically reduced.

  • Our towns are pockmarked with landslide zones and the rampant unplanned construction is a recipe for disaster.

  • We have experts predicting an impending disaster in these hills.

    Yet we remain silent and indifferent!

    praful rao

Friday, May 23, 2008

A letter to the Governor, West Bengal

Placed below is a copy of the email sent on 21May2008 to the Governor, West Bengal

Your Excellency,
Kindly recollect that I had emailed you with respect to the landslide hazard here in Sep-Oct 2007.
Since then the volume of letters/reports/photographs and data on our blogsite ( ) has grown and become a large testimony to the severe landslide hazard we face in this part of the world.
However, I regret to inform you that despite all the evidence on the blog and our many letters to appropriate authorities, virtually nothing has been done with regard to landslide prevention in the last 8 months. Critical, densely populated areas where emergency prevention work ought to have taken place on a war footing in the intervening dry months lie without a stone being moved since Sep2007. Now with the monsoon just weeks away people living in these areas are mortally scared and though a disaster management meeting did take place in the DM's office in Darjeeling last week it was a routine one where preventive action was not discussed.
I attach 4 maps of landslide/landslide prone areas in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Mirik. Though the maps are not accurate, they nevertheless portray the scale to which these areas have been ravaged by landslides.
Suffice it to say that should it rain like it did last year, there will be devastation here.

Yours faithfully,

with high regard

Praful Rao
Wg Cdr (retd)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Landslide prone / affected areas of Mirik (Kurseong Subdivision)

Sketch and data by

Bhushan Chettri
IIIrd year student
Kurseong College

comment by praful rao

Yet another scarred town and its environs

My grateful thanks to Bhushan for all his effort and research.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

8months later, a time for introspection...

Our successes

a) The landslide hazard situation in the Darjeeling/Sikkim Himalayas has been highlighted at the highest level. I know for certain that the National Disaster Management Authority has been notified.

b) Scientists from such national organizations as the Geological Survey of India (GSI), Dept of Science and Technology, Govt of W. Bengal have seen the devastation caused by the Sep07 landslides first hand.

c) The Administrator, Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) has after our meeting with him, agreed to put tackling landslides in the district as one of his administrations priority areas, along with those earlier designated (such as rural electrification, health etc).

d) The highest levels in the State Administration ie the Chief Minister, Principal Secretary of State Disaster Management authority have been notified of the landslide situation here. I do know the Governor is very much aware of our problem.

e) Leading national and international experts in the field of landslide hazard studies are aware of our problem and have written to us. They include
i) Prof. Leszek Starkel of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
ii) Dr RK Bhandari, Chairman, Centre for Disaster Mitigation and Management, Vellore Institute of Technology
iii) Prof David Petley of Durham University, UK.
Students from the University of Pittsburgh,USA may also be doing advanced research on landslides in this area in the future.

f) A number of landslide awareness meetings have been carried out and there are many more coming in the days ahead. The local media and press have given wide coverage to the issue.

And failures

a) Despite all that we have achieved, the most glaring failure has been that no preventive work against landslides has been carried in the last 8 months. Not even a stone has been moved in some critically affected areas and now with the monsoons just weeks away, we do face the prospect of loss of life and property.

b) STH has failed to rouse any sort of concern from the man on the street. The apathy amongst the people and especially the youth (except those directly affected by the landslides) is alarming.

c) The national media (print and electronic) remained unmoved by all that happened.

Photo credit: Chinlop F Lepcha

praful rao

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Will the cluster of black dots over Darjeeling/Sikkim become thicker in 2008?

Placed above is an edited version of a map (from
showing fatalities due to landslides in 2007. Each black dot represents a single fatal landslide.

The above map from a person who is a specialist on landslides only substantiates what STH has been stating all the while. That we live in one of the most hazardous landslide areas of the world...
having said that I would also like to add that in 2007, our fatalities were minimal.
Yes! mountains cracked open, a dam got submerged and roads were washed away but mercifully not many died...
After 6 months of the dry season where virtually NOTHING was done with respect to landslide prevention, the monsoon clouds are thickening over the Bay of Bengal once again....
Having seen the devastation last year, I am afraid what we witnessed in 2007 may just be the trailer...
the real movie is yet to begin...


Dave or more correctly Professor David Petley is a Wilson Professor of Hazard and Risk at Durham University, UK and specializes on landslide mechanisms. I came across his site (which provides a commentary on landslide events occurring world wide along with information on latest research, conferences and meetings) quite by accident and have subsequently been in contact with him. He has kindly allowed me to use his maps and data for STH.

praful rao

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Media coverage of Pittsburgh Univ team visit.

An excerpt from today's Telegraph:-

US study on landslip zones
- Hills eye tie-up

Kalimpong, May 14: A detailed mapping of the hazardous slopes could form the basis of an engineering solution to the problem of landslides in the Darjeeling hills. If all go according to plan, such an exercise would be taken up in Kalimpong with the help of the University of Pittsburgh in the US.

An indication to this effect was given by Kent Harries, the leader of a visiting team from Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. Besides Harries who is the assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, the team includes three students.

They were here on a study tour of the region at the invitation of Gayatri Kharel, a structural engineer and a member of the Planners Alliance for Himalayan and Allied Region (Pahar).

Harries, who spoke to The Telegraph over the phone from Darjeeling yesterday, said the slopes were a significant regional problem that they were not aware of till their arrival and there was a need to find a sustainable engineering solution to it. “Kalimpong could be taken up as a case study,” he added.

Asked if the university would be willing to share its expertise, he replied: “Technology transfer is rule number one.” He also added that a batch of six students from his university would be coming here every year to make use of the opportunity the region provides in terms of study.

On the other hand, Harries said, structural engineers and architects from either the region or other parts of the country interested in the area could visit Pittsburgh.

Echoing his sentiments, Kharel said: “We are in the process of formalising a mutually beneficial relationship. While we could gain from the studies they make on soil suitability and locally available building material, their research students will find varied topics to work on in our hills.”

Those involved in town planning and environment protection are also enthused by the potential tie-up. “Hopefully, the involvement of such an esteemed institution would help draw attention to our part of the world where an environmental catastrophe is waiting to happen thanks to rapid urbanisation and haphazard planning,” said Praful Rao, the convener of Save The Hills.

Subin Pradhan, an architect, said: “Even institutions here, least of all individual professionals like us, do not have the inclination nor, I guess, sufficient funds to carry out detailed studies like the one Pittsburgh is planning. What is even better is that they are willing to share their knowledge with us.”


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An SOS to the Government

Placed below is a copy of the fax sent to, Mr BL Meena (IAS), Caretaker Administrator, Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council -DGHC ie Chief Executive Officer of Government of West Bengal at Darjeeling by the Citizen's Right Forum - an NGO comprising of Senior Citizens of Kalimpong.


Mr. B.L. Meena (I.A.S.);
The Caretaker Administrator,




It is our earnest wish that you take this as a S.O.S from Kalimpong.

The condition of some areas seriously ravaged by the last rains is so precarious that the villagers, even now, have to abandon their houses/huts and take refuge in safer places when it starts raining. One must actually see to believe this phenomenon!

The urgent need of the hour is to save these villagers and villages from the fury and devastation of the coming rains. This potential and imminent calamity needs to be tackled immediately by the governing body of the DGHC.

Please be so kind as to realize the enormity of the situation and no to permit account-auditing to deter or delay relevant preventive measures.

Our considered opinion is that all preventive steps should commence promptly and on war footing. Fund, no matter the source, must be made available immediately to get the work going.

We wish, moreover to meet with you during your next visit to Kalimpong.

Thanking you.

Yours faithfully

(N.P Dikshit)

Citizen’s Right Forum


Copy to S.D.O. Kalimpong


Comment by praful rao

By way of a small explanation...the letter talks about "account auditing" which is apparently necessary as per procedure prior to release of funds for landslide prevention. This auditing maybe required since the New Administration under Meena has just taken over after the banishment of one time strongman, Subhash Ghising's GNLF regime.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Landslide and slide prone areas in Kurseong (Updated version)

Landslide / slide prone areas are designated by RED dots

More specifically:-

1. Saat Ghumti bustee(St.Mary's)
2.Lower Kharia bustee (St Mary's)
3. Rohini Pohila Gaon(Gayabari)
4. Upper and Lower Sirubari
5 Dhobi Khola
6 Giddha Pahar
7. 17th mile, Gayabari
8 Tindharia Gairigaon
9.Cricket Bazar (Tindharia)
10. 2 Busty (Tindharia)
11.Daragaon Sirisey (Ambootia)
12. Mumring (Sittong)
13.Turuk (Sittong)
14.Bara Sittong Busty
15.Kunti Taar (Sittong)
16.Ratnaydang (Gayabari)
17.Lower Paglajhora
18. Lapche Kothi Chisopani (Rohini)
19.Sherpa Busty (Kurseong College)
20. Subedar Busty (Municipal Area)
21. Cutlery Busty (Municipal area)
22. Goethals Siding

Information and sketch provided by

Bhushan Chettri
IIIrd year student,
Kurseong College

Comment by praful rao

I have replaced the earlier map (and blog) by this one which shows the landslide situation in greater detail.
My thanks to my young friends Bhushan (and Mikma) from Kurseong for their effort in obtaining the maps and info.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The writing on the wall...

"Landslides are common disaster phenomenon in many countries causing great economic losses. The Darjiling-Sikkim Himalayas in India is known to be the most severely affected. Even a glance at landslide statistics gives some idea of the enormity of the damage done and the ever present threat to lives and property.

Unauthorised structures in unsafe zones, absence of an adequate drainage system and unplanned growth of settlements have accelerated the process of ecological imbalance.

With rapid urbanization and a phenomenal growth of tourism, the Darjiling and Sikkim Himalayas have been experiencing an unprecedented rise in population since independence. Consequently, pressure on land is increasing with the gradual elimination of virgin forests. Unscientific and unplanned usages of land coupled with vulnerable geological structure and high rainfall have led to the establishment of vicious cycle of soil erosion and landslides. During or after every monsoon, landslides create havoc in the Darjiling-Sikkim Himalayas devastating human lives and properties. As a result, the Darjiling-Sikkim Himalayas, one of the most densely populated tourist centers in such monsoon environments, is on the verge of an environmental catastrophe so that just one concentrated shower of 50mm per hour could initiate landslides endangering innumerable local people and their properties."


Subhash Ranjan Basu,
Dept of Geography ,
University of
Ballygunge Circular Road- Kolkata -19


Sunil Kr De,
Dept of Geography ,
Union Christian Training College



Excerpts fromGeographia Polonica” Vol76. No2 Autumn 2003
Published by the
Polish Academy of Sciences
Institute of Geography and Spatial Sciences


Comment by praful rao

In May 2008, five years after the above article was published and after having witnessed, photographed, reported about the Sep2007 landslides, I cannot agree more with the what has been written .
Unless stringent and sustained measures are taken urgently, I am sure that we are hurtling headlong into a disaster of mammoth proportions here in the hills.
The whole document is on the internet and can be googled out.
The italics are mine.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Updates on "Useful links for the intrepid landslide watcher"

I have removed the useful links page from the Nov2007 blog and consolidated everything in the page below; the updates are in RED

International Consortium on Landslides

NASA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission

The US Government Landslide Hazard Program (has a FAQ plus some interesting facts about landslides)

A commentary on landslide events occurring worldwide, including the landslides themselves together with latest research, conferences and meetings. The blog is maintained by Dr Dave Petley, who is the Wilson Professor at Durham University, UK.

SITREPS from the National Disaster Management, India (Situation Reports from any disaster in India is available in the Sitrep library on this website)

Severe weather warnings for our area well as landslide warning






Monday, May 5, 2008

What ever happened to Cyclone Nargis?

Well this is what happened.
Again, we were lucky.
But as it ripped thru Myanmar it killed over 400 people.
Placed opposite is a photo from Myanmar TV of the destruction in Yangoon.
The question is how long will our luck last?

An update on 06May2008: the official death toll is now 10,000 dead and not 400 as earlier reported. This figure is expected to rise sharply!

An update on 08May2008: the official death toll is now more than 100,000 dead.

An update on 09May2008: 1,500,000 are homeless

praful rao

Sunday, May 4, 2008

So there was a Govt report after all...

For the many months after Sep2007 that STH has been talking about "The Silent Disaster" or the landslide disaster which was hardly noticed by anyone, one of the drawbacks was that I could not lay my hands on any Government report which spoke of any extraordinary tragedy having occurred in Sep2007 in these hills.
As such when the director of a prominent NGO operating from Kalimpong emailed his Head Office in Chennai in Sep2007, he was promptly told that in the absence of Govt reports and no coverage by the media, they could not really believe STH.
And so it must have been with many other agencies....
However, I found this SITUATION REPORT issued by the National Disaster Management Authority on 11Sep2007 on the internet today...

SITREP NO-103/2007

1700 hours


Ministry of Home Affairs

(Disaster Management Division)

Dated, 11TH Sept, 2007




  • Rainfall activity is likely to remain subdued over many parts of the country except northeastern states, West Bengal and Sikkim where fairly widespread rainfall with isolated heavy fall is likely to occur during next 3-4 days.
  • The axis of monsoon trough at sea level continues to run close to the foothills of the Himalayas.

The details of Unprecedented flood situation sites are as under:-


v In Darjeeling, due to landslides, about 12,000 people are reported to have been severely affected.

v The traffic movement on National Highway-55 which was closed earlier due to a landslide near Kalimpong and Gorubathan has since been restored.

v About 1150 houses (404-fully & 746-partially) have been damaged.

v The traffic movement on National Highway (NH-31A) connecting road links to Darjeeling-Sikkim continues to be suspended.



TELEFAX: 23092696


1. Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister (Shri T. K. A. Nair)

2. Cabinet Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Rashtrapati Bhawan (Fax-23012095)

3. Private Secretary to the Prime Minister (Shri B.V.R. Subrahmanyam), 7, Race Course Road, New Delhi.

4. Prime Minister’s Office (Shri Sanjay Mitra, Joint Secretary).

5. Sr.PPS to Vice-Chairman, NDMA, Centaur Hotel, New Delhi.(Fax-25655019)

6. Cabinet Secretariat (Dr. S.B. Agnihotri, Joint Secretary, opted to download from website).

7. Brig Sanjiv Laumas, DACIDS (Ops & Logistics) Room No.10, INCP, Gate No-11, South Block, New Delhi. (Fax-23005226, 23005137)

Copy to:-

1. PS to HM/PS to MOS (R)

2. PS to HS/PPS to Secretary (BM)/JS-(DM-I)/JS (DM-DAC Fax-23382417)/ Director (PR)/Master Folder.


Comment by Praful Rao

I find it amazing that the above report never caught the attention of the national media. Also that warnings from agencies such as the GSI (Geological Survey of India) have been persistently ignored over the years and more recently our words of caution that preventive action against landslides be initiated immediately has fallen on deaf ears until now - when we find ourselves at the brink of another 5 months of rain.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Educating the educated: Landslide presentation to a team from the School of Engineering, University of Pittsburgh, USA

Front row(L2R):- Ms G Kharel, Fr Van, Ms M Jaime, Ms B Sharma, Dr Bhujel
Rear Row(L2R):- Mr A Yonzone, Mr S Pradhan, Wg CdrP Rao (retd), Dr K Harries, Mr D Mitch
Students and Faculty of University of Pittsburgh - Dept of Civil Eng are in red italics)

Dr K Harries and Ms Kharel have over the past years been working on sustainability issues with respect to construction.
The above team from the University of Pittsburgh (comprising of Dr Kent Harries- team leader, Ms Jaime and Sharma-postgrad students and Mr D Mitchell- undergrad student) are here in Kalimpong to look into the possibility of developing a long term relationship with the ongoing projects here such as the school at Mungpoo which is being constructed using bamboo as the main structural material. They are also here to examine any other potential issues which they might want to be involved with such as the landslide problem.
With this in mind a workshop was organized in Himalayan Hotel om 01May2008 at 1700h by Ms Kharel with the help of Krishak Kalyan Sanghatan. The workshop comprised of a presentation on the "The Silent Disaster" ie the landslides of Sep2007 [given by Wg Cdr P Rao(retd) ] and an interactive session with the members involved.
I am glad to say that both the presentation and the interaction went off very well.
praful rao

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Landslide and slide prone zones in the vicinity of Kalimpong

I don't know why I didn't do this earlier..
Placed above is a rough sketch of Kalimpong town with SOME of the landslide affected areas.. ("some" because the smaller slide zones are not shown)
Except for Samthar and Mangbol, I have visited all the places; some, many times during the course of the past 6 months (and often with scientists, students and the local media).
Detailed reports and photographs from these areas are available on this blogsite.

praful rao