Monday, June 30, 2008

Media coverage: Mamring landslide (29Jun2008)

Excerpt from Telegraph 30Jun2008

Boulders hang over hill village
- Administration begins evacuation

Kurseong June 29: Boulders set loose by a landslide on the hill overlooking Upper Mamring Bustee have blocked the main approach road to the village and put at risk 59 houses.

A 12-metre-high boulder got stuck just above the village, around 20 meters from the first house today. The administration has started evacuating the families under threat.

“A large portion of the hillside overlooking the village, located 21km from Kurseong town, crumbled, probably because of the rain last night. We will evacuate all the people from the 59 houses because the boulders are a big threat at the moment. If it rains late in the evening or at night, the boulders may crash down on the houses, giving no chance to the villagers to even run away,” said Manish Verma, the block development officer of Kurseong.

Verma added that 12 big boulders are perched precariously above the village. The road that directly connects the village to Kurseong town has been blocked at two points.

The evacuated people are being shifted to temporary shelters set up at the primary school and on a small ground on the other side of the village.

Asha Mukhia Lama, the relief officer of Kurseong subdivision, said tarpaulins and blankets were being sent to the shelters via Lower Mamring Road, which takes around two-and-a-half hours.

The village has around 170 houses, but apart from the 59, the remaining are located far from the landslide zone and are safe for the moment, officials said.

According to the villagers, they spotted the boulders coming down around 8.30am.

Ajay Rai, a contractor who lives in Upper Mamring Bustee, said: “I was riding my motorcycle to a construction site. Suddenly, a boulder, which must have been 6-metre high, landed in front of the motorcycle. It was my luck that I managed to brake just in time. I left the motorcycle there and ran away. Later, I saw the whole hill coming down. By then, the residents had started running here and there.”

At least five families left their houses on their own and took shelter in nearby villages like Turuk and Lower Mamring, added Rai.

Since the concrete road leading to Upper Mamring Bustee is the lifeline of the village, the residents said the landslide would impact the local economy, which is solely dependent on agriculture.

“Almost every villager here depends on agriculture produce. Since the road is completely blocked at two points, the residents will surely have to bear losses.

“We will now have to engage people to carry the produce on their back and walk around 1.5km, which will prove costly. However, we must say we are lucky since the people have had a close shave,” said Hemant Gurung, a farmer from Upper Mamring Bustee.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Preliminary report on Mamring (Kurseong subdivison)- first major landslide of 2008

A major landslide took place in Mamring, a village of 170 houses in Kurseong subdivision at around 0830hrs today (29Jun2008).
Luckily there were no casualties, but the area is still in danger because of the huge boulders from above which threaten to flatten the village at any time.
Because of the impending hazard, 59 families from Mamring have been evacuated to
a school which is situated away from the landslides.

Report and photos filed by

Bhushan Chettri, Kurseong


comment by praful rao

I think it is time we listened to what our mountains are telling us.....

- my thanks to Bhushan and his source for the photos and the story

The week in photos and a report

I am glad to inform you that in the 8 months that STH has been online, we have grown. Thanks to many people who volunteer their time, effort and even money, I do receive photographs and reports from many parts of the district (and also Sikkim). We will (from 01Jul08) also receive accurate rainfall and temperature data on a daily basis for Darjeeling town at least.

It is just as well; too long have we kept silent about a cancerous hazard which will, in the foreseeable future, make living difficult this part of the world. It is therefore important that we raise awareness about this little known disaster, firstly amongst ourselves and then in the government and NGOs so that concerted preventive action may be initiated against this form of natural disaster.

Placed above are photographs sent by students and ordinary people who are STH reporters in the field...

Placed below is a summary of the landslide situation from Anugyalaya (

GP: Suruk-Samthar

Village/Place: Upper Chota Suruk

Casualties: Out of 1 km road constructed through NREGS, 100 m road damaged.
One house vulnerable, house members need to be shifted.
G.P: Samalbong GP

Booth: Tanyang

Village: Upper Tanyang

Casualities: One house hit by landlslide from above. Completely damaged.
No loss of life. Furnitures, clothes & other items destroyed
Documents, some clothes & necesssary utensils saved through FSK.
> Besides landslides in Kalimpong, the District hospital of Darjeeling have also been damaged by the heavy rainfall of yesterday.
> The joints of one of the block of the hospital has cracked. The floor of that block has submerged. Just below that block are residents of nearly 10 houses.

My sincere thanks to all the contributors of STH.

praful rao

Friday, June 27, 2008

Lest we forget - Oct 1968 in pictures

These amazing photos of the Oct 1968 Disaster in Darjeeling district are reproduced here kind courtesy Das Studio, Nehru Road, Darjeeling.
Having lived through the nightmare 4 decades ago as a young college student, these photographs bring back vivid memories.
To whose who don't know about the 1968 disaster in this part of the world, here is a brief on it:-

"In 1968, floods in the Darjeeling area destroyed vast areas of W. Bengal and neighboring state of Sikkim by unleashing about 20,000 landslides and killing thousands of people, report Sankar et al. These slides were caused by a heavy downpour ranging from 500-1000 mm in three days. Such incidents have a return period of 100 years claim the meteorologists. The impact of the rains was such that the Darjeeling-Sikkim road was breached at 92 places and the road transport was totally disrupted."

- Excerpt from "
West Bengal Needs Better Disaster Management" by VK Joshi


Photo credits:-
Mr Durga Das
Das Studio
Nehru Road

praful rao

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A picture which says it all: Eden Hospital, Darjeeling (21Jun08)

Tarpaulin sheets shield portions of Eden Hospital, Darjeeling from rain. Parts of the hospital were damaged due to land subsidence during torrential rains last week. The Rs 5 crore ($1.2million) hospital was financed by the World Bank and completed in 2003.

Photo credit

Mr Reza Pradhan- ETV news

STH, an unpleasant necessity...

Some days ago, a friend of mine told me that even though he read the STH blogs regularly, ( he found the blogsite depressing..

Indeed it must be extremely distressing to the readers of STH to be deluged with so much bad news all the time.

I confess, it is taxing for me too - to squirrel out these grim prophecies from the internet, visit and photograph landslide zones, talk to people with nothing but despair on their faces and write letters (which I know will never be answered) to officials who haven’t a clue about disaster prevention.

...but then I must persist.

On my way up to Shillong recently, I met a young journalist who is working for a prominent national TV channel and when asked he said he had not heard of Kalimpong and was blissfully ignorant about landslides
And so are most people.
The fact is landslides affect just 10-12% of the country whereas 58% of the Indian land mass is earthquake prone and floods affect millions.

Also the people affected by landslides (ie us mountain people) seldom speak out about their travails – thus the media, government and especially our own people are totally ignorant of the scourge of landslides and unless WE make an issue out of this form of natural disaster, it will remain unknown and uncared for.

You see, for us living in the hills, landslides are our tsunamis and floods and are even deadlier than earthquakes because they occur every year with unfailing regularity; lastly and perhaps most importantly they are now creeping into our populated urban areas.

So even though mine is an extremely unpleasant task of doling out daily dollops of doomsday sayings

– regrettably I have to carry on

Having said so much….

here is something from "The Statesman" and photograph from Tungsung, Darjeeling


DM visits landslide affected areas

Statesman News Service
KURSEONG, June 22: Yesterday, the Darjeeling DM, Mr Rajesh Pandey along with the Kurseong SDO Mr Dibyendu Das and the Kurseong municipal officials visited the landslide affected areas in Kurseong. Mr Pandey assured that the Kurseong sub divisional relief authorities and the Kurseong municipality authorities should submit proper report, following which the district administration would provide proper assistance, for the restoration, of the landslides affected area and victims, accordingly to government norms.
Notably, due to the incessant rainfall during the past few days, a number of minor and major landslides occurred at several places in Kurseong sub division which is, till now, the highest landslide affected area in the whole of the district

Photo credit
Mr Suman Rai - ATREE, Darjeeling

praful rao

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Photos from Darjeeling and Sikkim (June2008)

photo credits

Mr Bon Pradhan, Compuset - Darjeeling
Mr Ghanshyam Rai - Darjeeling
Mr Vimal Khawas - Sikkim

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A thing or two about rainfall..

India Meteorological Department classifies rainfall in the following categories:-

> 65mm as heavy,
> 85mm as very heavy and
> 250mm as exceptionally heavy precipitation

One of the resource persons (Dr KJ Ramesh, Scientist, Dept of Science and Technology, Govt of Meghalaya) in the Disaster Preparedness Workshop which I attended at Shillong recently (10-11Jun08) stated that due to climate change/global warming we could expect an increase of 20-40% in the annual rainfall in the future
BUT he went on to say this increase would be accompanied by a DECREASE in the number of days of precipitation.
In other words we will have days with sharp concentrated bursts of heavy/very heavy rain interspersed with days with minimal rain...

Thus in Sep07, it rained the entire monthly rainfall ie 650mm within the first week and by the 16Sep07, we had had 950mm of rain ie 150% of our monthly average ie - hence the devastation.

Also here is the rainfall data in Darjeeling for the past few days (24hr period ie from midnight to midnight) :-

15Jun08............ 1.01mm
16Jun08............ 4.06mm
17Jun08............ 92.2mm
18Jun08............ 127mm
19Jun08............ 56.8mm
20Jun08........... 59.9mm

What we have to understand is that so long as rain fall is distributed evenly over the entire month it maybe still okay - it is the “cloud burst” type of scenarios we have to be wary about….and rather sadly the frequency of this type of phenomenon seems to be increasing.

The heavy rainfall between 17-19Jun08 has already taken its toll…

Placed below are excerpts from today's newspaper

The Telegraph (21Jun08)

Rain triggers landslides & red alert

- ‘Moderate’ monsoon downpour expected in the next 24 hours - Cracks appear on hospital walls OUR BUREAU

Siliguri, June 20: Incessant rain throughout north Bengal has led to landslides in the hills and an announcement of red alert on both banks of the Teesta. The alert is meant for the areas starting from Domohoni, on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri town, to Bangladesh.

With the south-west monsoon setting in, north Bengal, especially the Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling districts, and Sikkim witnessed heavy to very heavy rainfall since yesterday.

The highest rainfall was recorded at Sevoke (230.8mm), followed by Bagdogra, Siliguri, Gajaldoba, Domohoni and Jalpaiguri . Of these, Sevoke, Gajaldoba, Domohoni and Jalpaiguri are located on the banks of the Teesta.

According to sources at the Regional Met Office in Jalpaiguri, rainfall above 65mm in 24 hours is considered heavy, above 125mm very heavy and above 250mm extreme heavy rainfall.

“The data of locations close to the Teesta available with us shows very heavy rainfall. This has contributed to the rise of water level in the Teesta,” the sources said.

Last year’s data, however, showed that rainfall on the same date in these areas was low. Sevoke had recorded 25mm, Jalpaiguri 0.1mm, Siliguri 4.4mm, Bagdogra 3.6mm, Domohoni 0.4mm and Gajaldoba 4.6mm. “The less rain was because of the late arrival of the monsoon,” an official at the Met Office said.

The last few days’ incessant rain also triggered landslide at Hatisuray, 25km from Siliguri on NH31A, and blocked the road for nearly six hours.

The highway is already deserted because of the strike called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

“The landslide occurred around 7am, disrupting the road link,” said Prankrishna Das, the officer-in-charge of the Sevoke police outpost. It however, disrupted the movement of army vehicles and ambulances to Sikkim and Kalimpong.

The debris was cleared by afternoon and the road communication was restored by the Border Roads Organisation, Das added.

The rain also affected Siliguri and surrounding areas, with residents of low-lying places like Samarnagar, Shitalapara, Santoshinagar, Ganganagar and Champasari, facing water logging this morning.

“We have received reports of water logging in some wards but the level receded by afternoon,” mayor Bikash Ghosh said. “We have sent workers of the conservancy department to the areas.”

The Siliguri Municipal Corporation has also opened a flood control cell and has cancelled the leaves of all employees in the conservancy and public welfare departments.

Weather experts hinted at rainfall throughout the sub-Himalayan Bengal in the next 24 hours.

“The monsoon clouds are hovering over north Bengal. We expect light to moderate rainfall,” said Subir Sarkar, the in-charge of the weather station at North Bengal University. “Yesterday, the NBU campus and nearby areas experienced an extreme heavy rainfall of 251 mm.”

The rainfall has also brought down the temperature. In Siliguri, the highest and lowest temperature were recorded at 25.4 and 23.4 degrees Celsius, respectively, Sarkar said.


Statesman News Service (21Jun2008)

More landslides in Kurseong

KURSEONG, June 20: More landslides triggered by the continuous rain over the past few days occurred in the Kurseong sub division today. The premises of one Gabriel Franci's house at ward no 2 of the Kurseong Municipality collapsed and his house was damaged in a slide.
The Kurseong Sub-divisional relief officer, Mrs Aasha Mukhia Lama informed that a public path near GDNS hall in Kurseong town collapsed this making life difficult for people residing in the area.
According to her, the house of Sangeeta Rai in ward no. 2 has also collapsed. The victim has been provided with tarpaulin. The relief department has pitched shelter points at different places to accommodate slide victims and food grain was being distributed among the victims.
The slides also affected Roshan Chetrri's house at Giddha-Pahar and the house of Dawa Lama at Sepoydhura as well. Large chunks of rocks rolled down the hillside on National Highway 55 at Dungay Kothi, near Mahanadi holding up movement of school vehicles.

Statesman News Service (21Jun08)

Cracks in Darjeeling district hospital

DARJEELING, June 20: The Darjeeling District Hospital has developed cracks in its structure following incessant rainfall the past few days. The rear portion of the building has sustained the fault causing panic among the patients.
“The hospital administration suggested us to stay back at our own risk. With such inclement weather conditions a calamity could occur in the night catching us helpless. So we are leaving the hospital,” said Mr Faizun Ahmed, whose daughter was admitted to the hospital for treatment yesterday.
Others like Balkumar Chettri of Lapchu whose brother is admitted with viral fever chose to stay back despite the caution. “It will be difficult to take my patient back in this bandh. Moreover, he has not recovered fully and we do not want to take chances with his health. If there is a crisis, it is the responsibility of the administration to make alternative arrangements,” he demanded.
The district hospital, which has already drawn flak from the locals for its pitiable condition had also earned the disapproval of the Union Health Minister Mr Anbumani Ramadoss during his recent visit to the hospital.
However, the hospital administration, the district administration along with the Darjeeling Municipality is taking necessary measures to overcome the crisis situation. Arrangements are being made to shift the 100 patients from the vulnerable zone to a safer place. “Around 60 patients would be shifted to the nearby Marwari Sahayak Samiti and the rest 40 will be relocated within the hospital,” informed the CMOH, Dr S Bhowmik.
PWD engineers surveyed the hospital today and repair work will begin from tomorrow. “The patients would be shifted back to the hospital after the repair works are over,” the CMOH added.
Regarding the discharge of some patients following the development of cracks on the hospital building the CMOH clarified: “Only those who have fully recovered have been discharged. As for the serious cases we take full responsibility of their safety.” The district administration has provided the hospital with tarpaulins to meet an emergency if any in the night, he added.


Sikkim Express (21Jun08)

Landslides cut off road communication across the State Our Correspondent
RANGPO, June 20:
Following incessant rains in the morning, fresh landslides occurred at several places around Rangpo bazaar this morning.
The landslides disrupted the Rangpo-Rongli, Rangpo-Pandam, Rangpo-Gangtok roads for some time but were soon cleared for traffic.
The Rangpo-Namchi road was also closed since morning due to heavy landslides at Narak Jhora. It was opened in the afternoon.

Heavy rains wash away portion of footpath in Ranipool

Staff Reporter
GANGTOK, June 20:
Following incessant rains over the past two days, a portion of the newly constructed footpath, near 7th Mile near Ranipool along the National Highway 31A was washed away this morning.
The force of the flowing rain water almost hit the house of one Kala Chettri, which is located just below the footpath.
The Sub Divisional Magistrate, East AB Karki and other officials from the State Public Heath Engineering Department and Rural Management and Development Department today visited the site.
“After a thorough inspection, we have declared the zone as unsafe,” the SDM told SIKKIM EXPRESS.
A cow belonging to Ms Chettri was slight injured with the stones brought down by the slides.
No casualties were reported.
“We heard a loud sound as if the entire footpath was falling above our house,” the house owner said.
Likewise, the torrential rains also washed away the pedestrian footpath joining DPH and Hospital Dara last night.
“Heaps of garbage is dumped into the jhora by the residents in this stretch as a result of which the landslide had occurred,” the SDM said.


Perhaps the most worrisome part in all this is that the monsoons have just begun in this part of the world ... and we have 3 months of rains ahead with the soil getting more saturated with every shower.

praful rao

My thanks to Mr Bon Pradhan of Compuset, Darjeeling for supplying last week's rainfall data for Darjeeling

Friday, June 20, 2008

A lesson in landslide prevention...

Placed below is an excerpt from "The Telegraph", dated 20Jun08

Self-help to fight landslides

Kalimpong, June 19: Residents of Alainchikhop and Chota Bhalukhop here have pulled in money to put in place a functioning drainage system in their localities to avert landslides, which many believe are certain to strike the hills this monsoon.

The initiative was taken after repeated appeals to the government on the impending disaster elicited no response.

Phurba Tshering Bhutia of Alainchikhop said: “We managed to collect about Rs 1.10 lakh from 67 houses to construct a network of drains to flush out rain water. Having averted a near disaster last monsoon, we did not want to take any chances this time round.”

Their neighbours in Chota Bhalukhop and surrounding areas took advantage of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s indefinite bandh in the hills to clean the drains in the area. Today, volunteers cleared the drain that runs from below the Kalimpong subdivisional hospital to the Mane Jhora. Yesterday, they had tackled the drain from McFarlane Church to Daragoan.

Experts said the entire area is prone to landslides because of the high concentration of population in certain patches coupled with the terrain and the inadequate drainage facility. Last September, three persons died in a landslide in Bhalukhop.

Members of various welfare associations of Alainchikhop had made representations to the government at different levels, including one before the chief minister, but to no avail.

“Frankly, the choice for us was either to do the job ourselves, or wait for the government-supplied tarpaulin,” said Bishnu Chhetri, the adviser to Dumping Ground Development Committee, referring to the tarpaulin sheets the relief department hands out to landslide-victims.

Praful Rao, the convener of Save The Hills, an NGO, accused both the DGHC authorities and the Bengal government of turning a deaf ear to the plight of the hill residents.

“At a time when the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is talking about a paradigm shift from a relief-centric approach to one that lays emphasis on prevention, preparedness and mitigation, the authorities here have not moved a stone in this regard despite repeated appeals in the past eight months,” said Rao.

“Sadly, the NDMA officials told me that our problem needed to be first taken up by the state government before they could intervene. Since that is unlikely to happen, I will continue making our case at every available forum and at meetings with every level of the government,” Rao added.

The residents of Alainchikhop and Bhalukhop, too, seemed resigned to taking care of their own fate. “We are just a few days into the monsoon and already landslides have started occurring. I dread what fate awaits us in the next couple of months,” said Bhutia.

In the past few days, rain-triggered landslides have damaged houses in the Darjeeling and Kurseong subdivisions. Although no one died, a number of families had to be evacuated in Kurseong.


Comment by praful rao

Though we may not be able to undertake huge projects in landslide prevention, I think community participation in Disaster Management in the years ahead will be vital - waiting for government action may at times be futile and even when they do act, community involvement will remain a key factor in landslide prevention.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Is the Big One coming? - By Dr Sonam Wangyal


In 1994 Himal magazine (Kathmandu) ran an article by R. Bilham who is with the Department of Geological Sciences in the University of Colorado, USA. The periodical being a bit academic with a pricey tag attached to it the readership was restricted to a limited numbers of readers and therefore Bilham's article did not cause the tremor it could and should have. His article on the chances of a great earthquake in the near future in the Himalayan region shook me very strongly and the aftershocks kept on coming for many days. The essay was discussed with many of my friends and they lampooned me as a believer of a doomsday merchant. My knowledge of the mechanisms leading to an earthquake was at best scanty, and not knowing anything beyond what I had read there was really no way that I could hold the fort during our discussions. Nevertheless, Bilham's article still shakes me and after the recent Gujarat quake my mind is often troubled with tremors of a much higher intensity.

I shall endeavour to explain Bilham's hypothesis in the simplest language possible. The earth's surface consists of a number of large, rigid plates that move relative to one another and interact at their boundaries. Some billions of years ago the northward moving Indian plate slipped underneath the Asian plate pushing it both horizontally northwards and upwards. This led to the upheavals forming the Himalaya. The movement still continues and the convergence rate of India towards Tibet is 2cm a year and that is compensated by the Indian plate slipping under the Asian plate. However, if the slip does not occur it would mean that 2cm of convergence remains stored in the rocks as elastic strain. If no slip has occurred in 100 years the stored strain would be 2cm X 100 or 2m, in 200 years 4m and should the slip occur after 500 years the movement would be 10m resulting in a mega-quake of around M=8 (or a reading of 8 on the Richter Scale).

Any major compensatory movement requires an event exceeding M=7 and Bilham's observation is that in the Himalayan segment between Kathmandu and Dehradun has not had that for several thousands of years. The records show only two large earthquakes, 1803 and 1833, and Bilham does not believe they were great earthquakes else they would have caused massive devastations and the British administration would have records of the widespread destruction and the efforts taken for reconstruction. It therefore appears that the chance of a great earthquake is real since sometime in the future the plates must make an adjustment. Of course a pent up force of several thousands of years never undergoes adjustment in just one big shake-up but the alarming arithmetic is that even if 500 years were to be adjusted the movement would be 10m and such an event would measure Magnitude Eight on the Richter Scale.

To understand the effects of an M=8 plus event we can study the Great Bihar Earthquake of 1934, which did not evidently cross M=8, but came close to it. At 2:13 pm on 15 January two million square miles of northern India and western Nepal shook violently for 5 minutes. It took another 15 minutes for ceiling lamps to stop swinging in Calcutta and many more days for the dust to settle from the landslides in the mountains of Nepal. At Darjeeling a number of badly constructed houses totally collapsed, in many buildings cracks appeared or walls fell out and lots of bungalows were damaged by the fall of masonry chimneys crashing through the roofs. A ground fissure, over 300 yards long, appeared below the station yard in Tindharia and numerous breaches were seen all along the cart road. Should a Nepal-Dehradun great earthquake occur then north Bengal is assured of some consequences just as in the case of Bihar Earthquake. The point is not when it will come, since earthquakes are inevitable and necessary features of adjustment between the tectonic plates, but of our preparedness. Matters like maintenance of essential supplies, handling fire hazards, law and order problems, outbreak of diseases, post shock syndrome counseling and the eventual reconstruction are but a few of the many things that will need a look into. However, the greatest tragedy and hurt will be the loss of lives and that can never be restored but, and it is ,an important but, it can be prevented. Studies of earthquakes have shown that the major cause of deaths has always been due to poorly constructed buildings. Over the past few decades buildings have mushroomed all over the hills of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Sikkim and are these structures built according to any studied and proven system of seismic resistant building codes or have they been built under outdated or whimsical codes will need to be considered seriously. That even these codes can be bypassed was proven a large building in Gangtok going down recently without the violence of an earthquake and such a vulnerable building could not be an isolated case. It is never too early to begin the process to prevent loss of lives but I could be talking to the wall, for all you know or care.


comment by praful rao

I need not introduce Dr Sonam Wangyal to anyone from this part of the world but for those who are abroad, Dr Wangyal is a physician firstly and a writer par excellence who writes on a variety of subjects.
While welcoming his article I would like to remind STH readers that we fall in ZONE IV of the 5 seismic belts and therefore as suggested by my young friend Niraj Lama, I feel STH can safely include earthquakes within its ambit.
In this connection I am reproducing an extract from a recent article "How prepared are we for Disaster?" by Patricia Mukhim, editor Shillong Times:-

"In its sheer ability to break its own rules the Urban Affairs Department (of Meghalaya) must be given a prize. Not a single builder adheres to the stipulated norms because the attempt to bribe the authorities starts from the time that the building permission is sought. All the commercial buildings in this city including those owned by powerful people would fail and earthquake test. The owners of those buildings do not care because they are landlords leasing the space out to lesser mortals. If the buildings collapse as they are wont to if a major quake hits the city, the building owner will be somewhere else while all the tenants and other members of the public who may be shopping will be buried under the debris.

What is the use of having a department that is creating more man-made disasters than solving them? Here I am talking of the Urban Affairs Department and its other arms as well as the State PWD. The latter as I have always maintained have no pride in their work. The former specialises flouting the rules it makes. Can the PWD point to one building which will withstand an earthquake? If there is one such we would like to know which one. Whenever a techno-legal regime becomes operational in Meghalaya can the government bring down all those badly constructed buildings that are not earthquake proof?? No it cannot. So they will remain towers of corruption for generations."

Photo Story - The Alaichikhop landslide episode

The Alaichikhop landslide (slide 1) has been featured on STH at length earlier (refer blog of Mon, 01Oct2007- Alaichikhop's forgotten children) and I have visited the place many, many times - with GSI scientists, school children, media people and students from NBU - perhaps because it is so close to town (within the municipal limits) and also because it is an example of a densely populated area in a hazardous landslide zone (slide 2).
As with all other places, despite our many, many letters to the state administration since Sep07 not even a stone has been moved here by way of landslide prevention and the people of the area are scared whenever it rains heavily (refer blog of Sat, 29Mar2008).
After Sep07, a meeting was held between the municipality, the state administration and residents of this area where it was decided that the dumping ground would be shifted to an alternate place within six months.
It so happens that I know the designated alternate dumping ground in Lower Newar Gaon well and it is a rugged, inaccessible area which is connected only by a dirt track and being so the question of plying trucks full of waste to and from the alternate site is totally impractical.

Since no landslide prevention has not taken place in Alaichikhop and the municipality & govt have not adhered to their promise of shifting the dumping ground away from Alaichikhop, the Farmer's club, along with villagers from the surrounding areas barricaded and sealed the dumping ground on 05Jun2008 (World Environment Day) (slide 7) to protect their homes from further landslides with the onset of the monsoons.
As such with no place to remove and dump the waste, Kalimpong town itself has become a gigantic dumping ground .... (Slide 8)

praful rao

Monday, June 16, 2008

Two photographs and a letter to the District Magistrate (DM)

The letter below has been emailed to the DM yesterday...

Shri Rajesh Pandey, IAS
District Magistrate,
Darjeeling District,

Wg Cdr Praful Rao (retd)

Landslide Prevention Work in Darjeeling District

Dear Sir,

I have just returned from a two day workshop held on Disaster Preparedness organized by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), (Govt of India) in collaboration with the North Eastern Council, Govt of Meghalaya and Lady Keane College, Shillong. The workshop was held at Shillong on 10-11Jun2008 and I attended the meeting on the invitation of the NDMA.

At the workshop, speaker after speaker and especially the participating NDMA members , Lt Gen (Dr) JR Bhardwaj, PVSM AVSM VSM PHS (retd) and Shri KM Singh, IPS (retd) emphasized on the paradigm shift in disaster management from a “relief-centric” and “post-event” response, to a regime that lays greater emphasis on preparedness, prevention and mitigation.

Since the landslides of Sep2007, SaveTheHills (STH) has filed many reports and written numerous letters to the Darjeeling district administration, identifying many landslide prone areas in the district; I have also briefed the Administrator, Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), Shri BL Meena, IAS at length on the grave landslide situation prevailing in some parts of the district (brought about by incessant rains last year). All these and more are available on our blogsite

Assuming therefore, that the administration is fully aware of the landslide situation in the district, I urge you to kindly take up short term preventive work immediately (which in many cases would consist of correcting drainage patterns and training of mountain streams ie jhoras in populated areas.)
Though much time has been lost without any proactive preventive action being undertaken, these measures may still lead to saving lives in the monsoon months ahead.

Yours sincerely

(Praful Rao)

Copy to:-

a) Lt Gen (Dr) JR Bhardwaj, PVSM AVSM VSM PHS (retd)
Member, NDMA
b) Dr Mohan Kanda, IAS (retd)
Member, NDMA
c) Shri KM Singh, IPS (retd)
Member, NDMA
d) Dr RK Bhandari
e) Mr BL Meena, IAS
Administrator (DGHC)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Workshop on Disaster Preparedness, Shillong (10-11Jun2008)

The above meeting was organized by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), in collaboration with the North Eastern Council (NEC) and Lady Keane College, Shillong. I was fortunate to be able to attend the meeting kind courtesy Dr RK Bhandari and the NDMA.

Placed below is an excerpt from "The Shillong Times" :-


Workshop on disaster management concludes

By Our Reporter

SHILLONG: A two-day workshop on Disaster Management Preparedness in Meghalaya was organised by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in collaboration with North Eastern Council (NEC), State government and Lady Keane College concluded on Wednesday.

The objective of this workshop was to initiate a process of interaction between NDMA, NEC, State government and all stake holders to review the disaster preparedness in the State and to chalk out a multi-pronged strategy with prioritization of various initiatives to prepare the State and its people to face disasters in future.

The deliberations of the workshop were led by NEC member PP Srivastava, NDMA member Lt General (Retd) Dr JR Bhardwaj and KM Singh, Revenue Minister EC Bamon and Chief Secretary Ranjan Chatterjee.

Among the experts in the field, IIT Mumbai faculty Prof Ravi Sinha made a presentation on Seismic Risk vulnerability in North East and Dr RK Bhandari elaborated on Landslide Risk in the region.

The participants included officers of the State administration, army, police, Central Police Organisations, Civil Defence and experts from Geological Survey of India, IIT Guwahati, NEIST Jorhat, State Space Application Centre besides Lady Keane College Principal Dr Massar and a large number of students of the college.

A significant feature of this workshop was a Panel Discussion on Role of Media in Disaster Preparedness with the panelist comprising representatives from all the prominent media both electronic and print from the State Administration in NDMA member Lt General (Retd) Dr JR Bhardwaj Emergency elaborated on the Role of Medical Preparedness while his counterpart KM Singh explained the details of proposed National Earthquake Risk Mitigation Project (NERMP) of the NDMA aimed at Capacity Building of large number of Engineers, Architects and Masons in earthquake building technology.

Mr Singh also offered the services of the NDRF to train a section of the Meghalaya Armed Police battalion as State Disaster Response Force as also for various other Community Capacity building measures in association with the State administration.

Lauding the initiative of Lady Keane College, NEC member PP Srivastava exhorted the students and faculty members to evolve a plan of action for spreading awareness and knowledge of simple "do's and don'ts" in various disaster situations and assured all help and training inputs by concerned specialized agencies. That would save lives and property their own, their families and the community.

He also hinted at the need of and mechanism for Inter-State coordination at the Regional level in the event of disaster anywhere in the North Eastern region.

At the end of the panel discussion on Capacity building of first responders, it was agreed that such student community should acquire a prime place in the next scheme of Disaster Preparedness and Awareness generation Campaign.

In this context, BSF Inspector General PK Mishra said that any government institutions, schools and colleges want to train their students in Disaster Risk Reduction and Preparedness.

Earlier while inaugurating the workshop, Chief Minister Dr Donkupar Roy stressed on the need for proper disaster preparedness in the State which is earthquake prone being located in Seismic Zone V.

He suggested for involvement of all agencies including police, home-guards and village defence parties in the disaster preparedness plan.

"The State government is in the process of finalising the new building bye-laws and amending the Town and Country Planning Act to comply with the new techno-legal requirements" Dr Roy said.

Praising the role of the NDRF in Search and Rescue operations after observing the life demonstrations, the Chief Minster requested for training of State Armed Police Battalions by the NDRF in a phased manner.

He also suggested for setting up of two companies of the NDRF Battalion at Shillong.


Comment by praful rao

The whole experience of attending a national level meeting on Disaster Preparedness with so many experts sharing their expertise on a diverse range of topics relating to Disaster Management was extremely educative to say the least.

But besides all that, what has been achieved is

a) The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has been apprised about the serious landslide situation prevailing in Darjeeling district especially after the rains of Sep2007 and the fact that no preventive work has taken place for years. While briefing Shri KM Singh, member NDMA on this issue and I also requested him to consider holding a similar Disaster Preparedness Workshop in Gangtok in the near future (subject to Sikkim govt’s approval).

b) A handout with photographs of landslide areas of the district, a brief write up on the landslide situation and issues to be addressed has been handed over to them and also distributed to many people during the meeting.

c) I have also briefed Dr RK Bhandari about the whole issue.

The downside to all this is that despite everything, disaster management and landslide prevention at the shop floor level remains a state issue under the SDMA (State Disaster Management Authority) , with the District Magistrate as the executive officer in our district.
And in the current political imbroglio, I doubt whether anything will move at all.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A photograph and the progresss on Landslide Awareness Workshops

The NGO network of Darjeeling had organized a series of workshops on environment issues at Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Mirik (on the 5,6,7 Jun respectively) respectively to mark World Environment Week.
The landslide issue in Darjeeling district was one of the topics under discussion and I am glad to inform you all the awareness lectures were very well attended (especially by students) and received.

While returning from Mirik, I photographed the Ambootia landslides (above) which has the dark distinction of being the biggest in Asia and has been the obsession of geologists and geographers the world over.

praful rao