Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Resurrecting ghosts from the past .. the 1950 landslides (in Darjeeling district)

Torrential rains (amounting to 834mm) between the 11-13Jun1950 caused massive landslides in the entire Darjeeling district. Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong were badly affected and there was extensive damage to the Darjeeling Hill Railways (DHR), roads, homes and public houses. As per official records 127 people died in the slides while hundreds more were rendered homeless.

The Teesta Valley Extension of the DHR from Siliguri thru Riyang to Geill Khola was closed permanently, as the hills were considered too dangerous.

An excerpt of a letter from Dr Rajendra Prasad, President of India , to the Governor of West Bengal is reproduced below:-

“I have received your telegram of the 15th June. I have been deeply grieved to hear of the sad toll of human life and property and the distress caused to the people of Darjeeling district in this calamity but am encouraged by your report of their high morale and the competent way in which the situation is being met”


Comment by praful rao

Reviving these ghosts is necessary to remind us of our vulnerability to a hazard which has been ignored or downplayed for so long that it has now grown into a monster which threatens our very existence in these fragile hills.
Neglecting it any more will tantamount to committing suicide in the not too distant future.

My sincere thanks to Mr Durga Das, of DAS STUDIO, Darjeeling for making these excellent, historic pictures of Darjeeling town and its vicinity of more than half a century ago, available to STH.
At least one or two locations maybe familiar to anyone who has been to or lives in Darjeeling....

Monday, July 28, 2008

A study in contrasts...

Placed above on the right is the website of Orissa State Disaster Mitigation Authority (OSDMA). Orissa is a state which is one of the most disaster prone in the country as such the OSDMA has evolved as a body which believes in proactively tackling disasters thru prevention and mitigation. What I found remarkable was that even though landslides are not THE major hazard in Orissa, there is a link on the website which gives a lot of information on landslides.
For any one even remotely interested in Disaster Management I strongly recommend having a look at the website here :-

Placed above on the left is the website of the Disaster Management Dept, Govt of West Bengal. It exemplifies the attitude of the State Disaster Management Authority which I have experienced first hand..they STILL believe only in post-disaster "RELIEF".
Also, even though Darjeeling district which lies within W. Bengal is as per the Geological Survey of India (GSI -the nodal body looking after landslides in the country), amongst the most landslide prone areas in India, there is just a mention of landslides in the introduction... thereafter "landslides" as a natural disaster apparently does not exist for the Department of Disaster Management, Govt of West Bengal.
If you haven't visited the website (
, dont bother.
You haven't missed much!

praful rao

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Disaster Management : Govt of West Bengal style

After almost a year of being obsessed with landslide hazards in our part of the world and after attending two meetings organized by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), I am of the firm belief that at the national level there is a conviction that prevention, preparedness and mitigation is the essence of disaster management along with other factors enumerated in the Disaster Management Act 2005.
Thus the Prime Minister, in his now famous speech to the first Disaster Management Congress in Delhi on 29Nov2006 said "I do believe that the time has come for a 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"

Apparently, the"paradigm shift" has not happened in West Bengal.

Placed above are screen shots from the home page of the
Disaster Management Dept, Government of West Bengal (

a) As is apparent there is no mention whatsoever about PREVENTION, PREPAREDNESS AND MITIGATION of natural disasters and the only rant, approx three years after the Disaster Management Act 2005, is still about "RELIEF"!! (SLIDE 1)

b) There is a passing reference to landslides in para 2 of the Introduction (SLIDE 1) but thereafter I found no mention of landslides in all the other links and pdf downloads (though preservation of cattle during relief operations in floods has received a great deal of attention in the "Manual for Relief of Distress" )

c) The organizational structure of the Dept (SLIDE 2) is ALSO woefully "relief centric" headed by the "Minister in Charge Relief" and ending with the "Block Relief Officer" at the grass root level.

As has been repeatedly explained to me, the actual footwork for landslide prevention has to be undertaken/initiated at the State level and presumably by the above department (ie the State Disaster Management Authority or SDMA).
But with "disaster prevention" or "landslides" being totally missing from their vocabulary do we have any hope that the Dept of Disaster Management, Govt of West Bengal will do anything towards this end ???

Time to invoke the Right to Information Act 2005...that will be my next post.

praful rao

Saturday, July 19, 2008

NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) Landslide Awareness Workshop at Kolkata (16Jul2008)

The meeting began with Shri KM Singh outlining the purpose of the meeting; this was followed by many of the speakers giving their presentations - the STH presentation consisted of a short talk followed by a 5 min slideshow called "The Writing on the Wall" - showing a landslide photographs from 1899 to 29Jun2008.

Some important points which emerged:-

a) Shri KM Singh, Hon Member of the NDMA in his keynote address stated that the Kolkata meeting was because of West Bengal State Governor's (and certain MP’s) interest in the landslide hazard in Darjeeling/ Sikkim and also a fallout of the interaction with SaveTheHills (STH) in the NDMA conference in Shillong (10-12Jun2008).

b) He also stated that the AIM of the Kolkata conference was to see how the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) could help in capacity building as regards landslides in Darjeeling/Sikkim.

(For anyone interested there are 8 Battalions (Bn) of NDRF in the country, composed of troops from the para- military forces. They are specially trained and equipped to handle threats from natural/ manmade disasters. The formation of NDRF is the result of requirements set forth in the Disaster Management Act2005.
Shri KM Singh in the NDMA is directly in charge of the NDRF )

c) W Bengal State Disaster Management Authority's (SDMA) lukewarm response towards the landslide workshop in Kolkata was very apparent; they had sent two junior “Relief”officers who had no knowledge about landslide hazard in Darjeeling district. This was noted by the NDMA.

d) I interacted briefly with Dr N Som (Former Professor of Civil Engineering and Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Technology. Jadavpur University, Kolkata), before the meeting and asked his views about the landslide situation in Darjeeling/ Sikkim.
He was categorical in stating that the landslide problem would only be alleviated by consistent and proactive involvement of the affected people. He quoted an example where some measurements were to be taken in a landslide study Jadavpur University was doing in Sikkim - he said that even though the measurements could easily have been done by the local people, they were not bothered as such the university had to send people up once a month from Jadavpur to take these measurements.

e) When I requested that automatic rain gauges be installed in landslide prone populated areas (as a somewhat crude way of predicting landslides), Mr Sunil Dhar from Defence Terrain Research Laboratory (DTRL) said that he had done this exercise earlier in Sikkim but the rain gauges were stolen within a short span of time.


a) It was decided that NDRF would take time to train people in landslide disasters since this form of natural disaster was new to them. They would however assist organizations such as DTRL and STH in raising public awareness thru publicity brochures, programs, workshops and so on.

b) DTRL together with STH would conduct landslide awareness workshops in Darjeeling district sometime after the monsoons

c) A core group consisting of 4 members and inclusive of STH would be formed to monitor the landslide issue.


Comment by praful rao

The good thing about our type of disaster ie landslides is that

a) To a large extent they can be predicted (unlike earthquakes for example).

b) To a large extent they can also be controlled and prevented.

Another good part is that only about 10% of the country is landslide prone - which is where our problems start.. you see not many people know about this hazard and worse still we, the affected people, never make a noise about it.
As such it has remained a hazard which slowly spread its tentacles into our innards without anyone knowing/caring about it...

To that extent I am extremely happy about the outcome of this meeting- the highest body in the country dealing with disasters ie the NDMA has responded in a most positive manner...
I think that gives us a reason to smile...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Fact and fiction



and Fiction
(extract from "the Hindu", Thurs, 08Nov2007)

Call for national strategies to deal with disasters
Vinay Kumar
Disasters know no political boundaries: Manmohan

FOR PROACTIVE POLICIES: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil at the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in New Delhi on Wednesday.

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday called upon modern societies to come together to deal with manmade disasters – be they industrial or those caused by terror attacks.

“The threat of terrorism looms large in our region and could trigger disasters across borders,” he said inaugurating the second Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction here.

Noting that earthquakes, cyclones, floods and tsunami caused havoc across Asia in the recent past, Dr. Singh said the important aspect was to have “coherent national strategies and national capabilities to handle disasters.”

“Disasters know no political boundaries and we are all equally vulnerable to them.” It was one area where nations must cooperate to find collective solutions to the challenges. “It is in difficult times that we need the best of relations. As the old wise saying goes, a friend in need is a friend indeed.”

Citing the example of regional cooperation in creating a Tsunami Early Warning System in the wake of the December 2004 havoc, the Prime Minister stressed the need for more bilateral and regional cooperation to make effective use of capabilities. India adopted a forward-looking approach to disaster management and mitigation. National and State-level disaster management authorities had been constituted. “The paradigm shift that they have advocated is based on moving away from a relief-centric, post-event approach to a holistic, integrated and preventive approach. The focus will be on disaster prevention, preparedness and mitigation.”

In her keynote address, United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi advocated “pro-active” policies as part of long-term measures to anticipate and minimise the destructive power of disasters.

Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil suggested intensive research and development to manage disasters, and said contingency plans to help people should be kept ready.


Comment by praful rao

Despite, the Disaster Management Act 2005, despite the Prime Minister's words, despite hundreds of letters and signatures sent to VIPs, politicians and media personnel, at the district level today disaster management remains totally "relief centric" with disaster prevention consisting only of praying to the almighty that our lives may be spared another day....
What a pity!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Then and now....

"Landsliding is perhaps the most rampant environmental hazard threatening the Darjeeling town itself. Numerous slips have occurred in the past; however the intensity, cause and severity of the slides are being recorded only since 1899. From the records of the recent landslide events, it is quite clearly revealed that the frequency of the landslips is increasing from decade to decade."

-Rains, Landslides and floods in the Darjeeling Himalaya
Edited by Prof Leszek Starkel and Subhashranjan Basu


Comment by praful rao

The scary part in all this is that landslides are increasingly creeping into our densely populated urban centres; (a few days of heavy rains in Jun08 and Eden hospital in Darjeeling cracked up, in Kalimpong we have the Alaichikhop landslide of Sep07 which is barely a couple of hundred metres from the town centre )
- and a look at the landslide maps of Kurseong and Mirik towns (available on this blogsite) reveals some more grim news

The question is how many decades more are we going to wait till we decide to do something about combating a hazard which is slowly choking us?
The clock is ticking; we are sitting literally on a time bomb!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Images from Mamring

On the 29Jun2008 at around 0630hrs, Mamring (above), a quaint little village in Kurseong subdivision of Darjeeling district was almost flattened by a gigantic rock slide.
Huge boulders, some the size of a small house, came crashing down from a hill directly above the village causing many residents to be evacuated..
Though there were no casualties, the threat to Mamring village from the rock slides is real and likely to increase as the monsoon progresses.


Photo credit:

praful rao

Friday, July 4, 2008

Taking our issue to the world..

Landslides affect thousands all over the world and STH is just one voice trying to raise awareness against this hazard which in our part of the world is partly due to ignorance and human callousness (besides a host of other reasons).
In this regard Dr David Petley of Durham University (UK), also Director of International Landslide Centre has a number of websites solely devoted to landslide studies and is an expert in his own right.
I am glad to inform you that STH is featured in his blogsite :-
The entry is reproduced below:-
"Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Some useful landslide and hazard links and blogs

I thought it would be interesting to provide some details of three blogs / sites that I have come across recently, and which I have found useful:

Save the hills: I have posted about this site before, but as we come into the monsoon rainfall season in north India it is worth highlighting again. Save the hills is a community blog focused on drawing attention to the appalling losses from landslides in Darjeeling. It is a terrific campaigning site that also contains some really interesting reports of landslides as and when they occur.

MCN Disaster Newsletter: This is a weekly newsletter that aims to raise awareness of disasters in Nepal, which is a country with more than its fair share of such problems. It contains a really interesting mix of hazard reports and details of capacity building activities in Nepal. This is an organisation that is doing a great job but which desperately needs support to maintain its activities.

GDACS: This is a really interesting idea. GDACS provides real time information about natural disasters occurring around the world. Users can create an account that means that the site will email or text bulletins as and when events occur. At the moment it is focused on tropical cyclones and earthquakes. The site is the product of support from the European Commission. "
praful rao

Thursday, July 3, 2008

This and that...


Rainfall data (Jun2008) and a brief analysis:-

Heavy rainfall days

1. 16Jun – 4mm
2. 17Jun- 92mm
3. 18Jun- 127mm
4. 19Jun- 56.89mm
5. 20Jun- 59.9mm
6. 21Jun- 3mm (Eden Hospital building, Darjeeling develops cracks)
7. 24Jun – 2mm
8. 25Jun – 6.09mm
9. 26Jun- 17.01mm
10. 27Jun- 56.89mm
11. 28Jun- 17mm
12. 29Jun- 38.1mm ( Rock slide in Mamring, Kurseong)
13. 30Jun- 45.9mm

Total= 525.78mm


We received 67.9% of the total monthly rainfall in just 13 days and that too in the latter half of June. The remaining 32.1% of the rain was distributed over 17 odd days.

The landslide occurrence in Jun08 coincides with this observation.


Excerpt from Telegraph 03Jul08

Slides block NH31A


Kalimpong, July 2: A series of landslides following heavy overnight rain disrupted traffic on NH31A, the road linking Siliguri with Kalimpong and Sikkim, today.

The landslides, which started around 3am, have thrown slush and boulders from the hillside on a 50-metre-stretch of the road at 28 Mile, around 25km from here, causing huge traffic blocks at either end of the damaged area.

Officials of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which maintains the highway, said efforts to restore traffic movement were hampered as mud and rocks continued to come down from the hillside throughout the day.

Although several trees were uprooted and fell across the highway, they were later removed.

Light vehicles started moving around 4pm, but heavy vehicles were yet to be given passage. Many vehicles were re-routed via Rambi-Mungpoo-3 Mile-Peshok-Teesta and 27 Mile-Takdah-6 Mile-Peshok-Teesta, which means travellers had to spend four hours, instead of two hours, to reach Kalimpong from Siliguri. Some vehicles also took the road via Lava, which, too, takes two extra hours.

The closure of the road had an immediate impact here with one of the two petrol pumps in town running out of fuel around 9 in the morning after the tanker bringing in oil got stuck in the traffic jam.

As the road communication was thrown out of gear, Kalimpong residents have had to do without newspapers as vehicles carrying them, too, were stranded in the traffic snarl.


a) Photo credit - Bhushan Chettri, Kurseong

b) Rainfall data is of Darjeeling town and courtesy Compuset Centre, Darjeeling

praful rao