Saturday, December 26, 2009

Automatic rainfall gauge installation at Kalimpong

Automatic rainfall gauges (ARGs) and Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) will certainly help us bolster our preparedness against landslides during periods of heavy rain during the monsoons in the future. STH had written to India Meteorological Department, Kolkata regarding installation of these in Kalimpong, their reply is placed below.
Darjeeling/Gangtok already have AWIS and their read out is available here

Praful Rao

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A milestone .. STH wins the Manthan Award

Please refer the earlier blog.
STH was presented the Manthan Award in the evening ceremony on 19Dec2009 at NCUI auditorium, New Delhi -  for the innovative and imaginative use of the blog/ SMS in bringing the serious problem of landslides in the Darjeeling - SIkkim Himalayas to a world audience; also for initiating a community basic early warning about heavy rain using the SMS.

Praful Rao

Saturday, December 19, 2009

STH at the Manthan Awards South Asia 2009 (MASA 09)

Digital Empowerment Foundation ( is a Delhi based which hosts the Manthan Awards (  The Manthan Award is a first of its kind initiative in India to recognize the best practices in e-Content and Creativity and now includes all the SAARC countries.
STH has been shortlisted for the awards by DEF as such 4 STH members ie (Praful Rao,President along with Aachal Tamang, Bhushan Chhetri and Hemkar Rana) are in Delhi attending MASA.

Praful Rao

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A quote from Carl Sagan

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
It is up to us."
- Carl Sagan (1934-1996)
American astronomer

Saturday, December 12, 2009

An Eye in the Sky :TRMM

The Tropical Rain Measuring Mission is  a joint space mission between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) designed to monitor and study tropical rainfall.
The website ( is one of the MUST SEE stop overs of STH and is used along with that of India Meteorological Department ( to send out SMS alerts on heavy rainfall warnings.
The photo above shows Cyclone "WARD" as it brews off the coast of Tamil Nadu today - IMD has already issued a severe weather warning for the area.

Praful Rao

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A distinct honour..collaborating with Prof Leszek Starkel

Prof Leszek Starkel, is a legendary figure amongst geomorphologists whose interest in landslides in this part of the world spans many decades. He was our main speaker last year in Darjeeling and exactly a year later he was with us on 21Nov2009 during our workshop in Kalimpong.
While interacting with him during the day's proceedings, Prof Starkel invited STH to  to co-author an article with him for a scientific journal. He has since reached home (Krakow, Poland)  from where I recd the letter below :-
"Thank you so much for your  invitation and interesting discussion during workshop in Kalimpong. I hope that the joint paper will be realized. Next week I will write you details about structure of paper and needed records on rains, landslides etc.

with best regards
Leszek Starkel"

Praful Rao

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The link between rainfall intensity and global temperature (from Dave's Landslide Blog)

One of the most interesting aspects of the global landslide database that we maintain at Durham is the way in which it has highlighted the importance of rainfall intensity in the triggering of fatal landslides. Generally speaking, to kill people a landslide needs to move quickly rapid, and rapid landslides appear to be primarily (but note not always) triggered by intense rainfall events (indeed in the reports the term "cloudburst" often crops up). So, a key component of trying to understand the impacts of human-induced global climate change on landslides is the likely nature of changes in rainfall intensity, rather than that of rainfall total. Put another way, it is possible that the average annual rainfall for an area might decrease but the occurrence of landslides increase if the rainfall arrives in more intense bursts.

(For those interested the full article can be read here)


Comment by Praful Rao

Even though STH does not have accurate data to support the above article, it is true that in 2009 we had high intensity rainfall on 5 occasions (shown in earlier blogs) - and 4 of these "extreme events" caused severe landslides in the Darjeeling district.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Images from Landslide Hazard Workshop at Town Hall, Kalimpong :21Nov2009

A strike in the Darjeeling district on 20Nov2009 , necessitated rescheduling the entire workshop for the next day - luckily for us the venue (Town Hall) was free and so we could go ahead with the workshop - with some changes as 2 resource persons were not available on 21Nov2009.
The resource persons on 21Nov2009 were :-
a) Prof Leszek Starkel
b) Prof Jeta Sankrityayana
c) Dr Vimal Khawas
d) Wg Cdr Praful Rao (retd).

I am glad to tell you that despite all the many hurdles and the last minute changes that were required, the workshop was a success.
I will be posting the outcome document of the workshop in a few days.

Praful Rao

Friday, November 13, 2009

In the next week...

Last year exactly at this time STH conducted a workshop on Landslide Hazards at Southfield College, Darjeeling. I have the proud priviledge of announcing that we are again organizing a workshop on similar lines, this time at Kalimpong. Whereas sceptics (I was also one) may debate the ultimate result of conducting these sessions, I am now convinced that these workshops, meetings and awareness camps have to carry on relentlessly... it is only then that somewhere, sometime the community first and then people in the media and govt circles will start thinking about prevention and the many other aspects of this little known disaster form.

Praful Rao

Monday, November 9, 2009

At the Second India Disaster Congress, Vigyan Bhavan, Delhi

I had the unique privilege of attending the 2nd India Disaster Management Congress at Vigyan Bhavan between 04Nov-06Nov2009 ( those interested on details of the Congress can read it here).
What I am extremely glad to report is that during the question hour of  thematic sessions on "Mass Movements (Landslides and Avalanches)"- Plenary Hall, 05Nov2009, thematic session on "Involving Communities, NGOs in Disaster Management"- Plenary Hall, 05Nov2009  and that on "Early Warning and Disaster Communication" on 06Nov2009 (Hall no 5) I could raise the following issues :-
a) The increase in the incidents and severity of landslides in Darjeeling and the need for a holistic and sustained strategy to manage landslides in the district. ( During thematic session : Landslides)
b) Compensation for land loss (esp to farmers) due to landslides. ( During thematic session : Landslides)
c) Possibility of the Govt machinery issuing "Heavy Rainfall and Landslide Alerts" through SMS broadcasts. ( During thematic session : Early Warning and Disaster Communication )
d) Insurance of land against landslides. ( During thematic session : Communities, NGOs in Disaster Management )

Praful Rao

Comment by Praful Rao
My regrets for not posting more photographs - the security during the meeting often deterred  one from using cameras. However, more photos should be available on the NIDM website.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Documentary film on Landslides

Nine final year students of the Dept of Mass Communication, St Joseph's College, North Point - Darjeeling (which included students from Darjeeling, Sikkim and Bhutan) were here in  Kalimpong on 27Oct2009 - they are working on producing a documentary film on "Landslide Hazards in the Darjeeling district". Besides doing an exhaustive interview on the subject, they discussed the causes and effects of landslides with STH. The documentary is being being made for the  Montage College Film festival at the college on 28Nov2009.
We intend to collaborate with the Mass Communication Dept of the college during the ensuing monsoons with the intention of producing a high quality documentary on landslides

Praful Rao

Monday, October 19, 2009

An invitation for the 2nd India Disaster Management Congress in Delhi (04Nov-06Nov09)

STH (with a lot of help from the affected people of Chibo and Pashyor) had in the first week of Sep2009 submitted a paper to the 2nd India Disaster Management Congress (IDMC) about the vulnerability of  Chibo - Pashyor to landslides and the urgent necessity for a long term solution. The same has been accepted formally as a part of the documentation for the Congress.
As such STH has officially been  invited to the Congress and I will certainly attend the IDMC2.

Praful Rao

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Rainfall peaks : 2009

Technically the SW monsoon completes it withdrawal from this part of the world on 12Oct and judging by the fine weather we have been experiencing for the past few days, I just hope it is so.
Placed above is an approximation of the rainfall pattern in 2009, the consequences of which are given in brief below :-

(A) 25-27May2009.
We experienced a direct hit by Cyclone AILA which dumped as much as 350mm of rain in 3 consecutive days. The western parts of Darjeeling district (Kurseong and Darjeeling) suffered the most damage - 27 persons died in landslides and roads, tea gardens and infrastructure sustained immense damage.
(B) 02July2009.
Kalimpong received 112mm of rain in a single day. Even though there was only one death, Nimbong and Pabrintar in Kalimpong subdivision were severely affected by landslides. It took more than a week to restore the Nimbong-Bagrakote road which is the life line for people living in the area.
(C) 15Aug2009.
A single day's rainfall amounted to 152mm. 6 persons died in Kurseong and there was significant damage to houses and infrastructure.
(D) 19Aug2009.
Coming within 4 days of the above rainfall, the 198mm of rain on 19Aug caused immense damage. Chibo/Pashyor remain isolated from Kalimpong as on date (14Oct) with roads and bridges having been washed away by the deluge.
(E) 07/08Oct2009.
36 hrs of rainfall brought in 280mm of rain. However, there was no report of any major damage or death, most probably due to the fact that Sep2009 was largely dry and the moisture content in the earth had decreased significantly.

Detailed reports (with images) on all the above incidents can be found in earlier blogs

Praful Rao

Thursday, October 8, 2009

36hrs of hell (06-08Oct2009)

Rainfall data for Darjeeling and Kalimpong for approx 36 hrs(06-08Oct2009)

Darjeeling - 288mm
Kalimpong - 280mm

Average rainfall (last 5 yrs) for Darjeeling district for the month of Oct  : 132mm (source

It rained for just about 36hrs and unlike Cyclone AILA, there was no well formed system which was "trackable", nevertheless it dumped close to 300mm of rain (equal to more than double the monthly rainfall) in barely one and half days.
For all of us living here in the affected areas , the 36hrs were as many hrs in hell!
Slide 'A' shows the satellite picture from on 07Oct09 at 3.30am IST
Slide 'B' shows a close up of the same area on 08Oct09 at 5.30am IST

The fact that there were no major landslides this time is perhaps because
a) In Sept09 we had almost 2 weeks of sunshine and as such the moisture content in the soil had reduced considerably.
b) The rainfall lasted for 36hrs only.

Comment by Praful Rao
Annotations on Slide 'A' and 'B' are mine.
Rainfall data source :-
a) Darjeeling ................... Compuset, Darjeeling
b) Kalimpong................... Govt of WB

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Why landslides are an unknown disaster form..

  • Only 15% of the Indian landmass is affected by landslides and many of the affected areas are in remote inaccessible places.
  • Landslides are typically a recurrent form of "small disaster", which gets ignored at the national level in comparison to extreme and extraordinary "high impact" events such as earthquakes.
    Yet the attrition, cumulative loss and impact on development caused by landslides over years often exceeds that caused by the infrequently occurring mega disasters.
  • Statistics for recorded wrongly. Most often losses due to landslides are attributed to events which trigger them eg losses and deaths between 25-27May2009 in Darjeeling are ascribed to Cyclone AILA and not to landslides.
    This leads to an erroneous and deceptively low loss/damage rates being reported for landslides.
  • Govt and media parameters (in India) of judging the severity of landslides are confused and needs to be made exact and precise in order that a landslide can be evaluated correctly.
    As on date govt and media still report the severity of a landslide in terms of the number of houses "fully or partially" damaged or the number of lives lost.
    On 19Aug2009 in Kalimpong landslides, triggered by high intensity rains caused huge damages to roads and infrastructure such as bridges/culverts and caused much loss of farmland. Fortunately no one died.
    Media and govt reports still stuck to reporting the losses in terms of "numbers of houses partially and fully damaged".
    This confused method of assessment leads to an under reporting and incorrect estimation of the scale of the devastation by the hazard.

    Praful Rao

Saturday, September 26, 2009

What took place and what's in the offing...

04-06 Nov2009 (Second India Disaster Management Congress, New Delhi)
STH had submitted an abstract on “Landslide Hazard Case Study: The dire need for a comprehensive, long term solution to the landslide problem at Chibo - Pashyor villages, Kalimpong, District Darjeeling, W Bengal”, under the theme "Mass Movements (Landslides and Avalanches)" for the Second India Disaster Management Congress, at Vigyan Bhavan on the above dates.
I am glad to inform all that it was accepted by the Review Committee of the Congress, as such STH stands officially invited to attend the Congress. I am happy that this gives us an opportunity to highlight our problem at a national forum.20Nov2009
World renowned geomorphologist, Prof Leszek Starkel of the Polish Academy of Sciences will be with us in Kalimpong once again and this time we will be holding a one day workshop here on "Landslide Hazards in the Darjeeling/ Sikkim Himalaya"
I enclose a small writeup on the Professor:-
Prof Leszek Starkel

He was born in 1931, in Wierzbnik, Poland.
He began his scientific career in the Institute of Geography of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
Professor Starkel has been active on the international stage by participating in over 100 congresses and workshops in 37 countries, among them seven IGU congresses and all five congresses of the International Association of Geomorphologists.
In addition to his European work, his field studies have been in Asia, India, Mongolia and China, and his work has been recognized by leading geographical societies in Hungary, Slovakia and Sweden and he is an Honorary Member of the International Union for Quaternary Research.
Also Professor Starkel is noted for his close links with geographers in India through his work on floods and landslides in the Darjeeling Himalaya.
He has been visiting India since 1968 and has been involved in International Bilateral Collaboration of Scientists programme between Polish Academy of Sciences & Indian National Academy of Sciences since the Year 1985.

Praful Rao

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Milestone and a Marathon...14/15Sep2009

On 14 Sep2009, SaveTheHills was 2 years old.
As if to celebrate this "Kumudini Pariwar", the alumni of Kumudini Homes, an old and venerable institution of Kalimpong held a one day sporting event and a marathon on 15Sep2009 with the theme "Let's Run to Save The Hills". The event was intended to raise awareness about landslides amongst the public and students and had 200 students from different schools of the sub-division participating.
I would like to thank Kumudini Pariwar for the event and also Kolkata Police and Basil India for the 90 odd "Save The Hills" t -shirts which we distributed amongst the participating athletes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is this Climate Change? Extraordinary Rainfall of Aug2009 in Kalimpong

August2008 was a great month as far a rain and landslides went; not so this year.
In August 2009, even though we received just about the monthly average rainfall (approx 630mm ie 10mm short of the monthly average) what went wrong was that in just two days (15Aug2009 and 19Aug2009) we received more than 55% of the total monthly rainfall.
This extraordinary volume and intensity of rainfall caused widespread and huge damage in Kalimpong subdivision and much of which is documented in the blog.
So climate change may not be something which we read about in some environmental magazine or see on CNN - maybe it is happening in our midst.

Praful Rao

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The "Save Chibo" workshop : 05Sep2009

An excerpt from the Telegraph of 07Sep09

Monsoon fury spurs fear of relocation

Kalimpong, Sept. 7: The damage caused by the monsoon to Chibbo busti and its adjoining areas on the outskirts of the town has raised fear of relocation among its 10,000-odd residents.
The entire area from Durpin on the top to Poshyor below has turned into a sinking zone, thanks to the rains. The heavy downpour of August 15 and 19 in particular caused major damage in the area.
In fact, the road link to both Upper and Lower Chibbo villages has been snapped since the night of August 19. It will take months to restore the link as a huge portion of the road has been washed away by a landslide at Upper Chibbo. Three vehicles have been stuck in the village since then. The local people have erected a makeshift bamboo bridge that can only be crossed on foot. Chibbo though is not a remote village but almost a suburb and adjoins Wards 17 and 19 of the municipality.
So alarmed are the people of the area that recently they formed the Chibbo Protection and Monitoring Committee (CPMC) to spread awareness about their plight. “The entire area is sinking. We either have to leave and relocate elsewhere or the government must put in place a comprehensive plan to save the area from impending doom,” said Suren Pandey, the CPMC spokesperson.
The CPMC has also joined hands with SaveTheHills, a local NGO engaged in espousing the landslide issue, to help project their case to the world, including the government agencies. “If we don’t act now, we will be perished. It is not only Chibbo which is under threat, but also the adjoining areas like Wards 17 and 19, Tanekbusti, Poshyor, 3 Mile and 4 Mile,” said Pandey.
Praful Rao, the NGO president, has admitted that the entire western face of the town has become very unstable. “A combination of various factors like lack of proper drainage and anthropogenic causes have accelerated the degeneration to an alarming rate where if no long-term solution is sought, the prospect of relocating everyone in Chibbo-Poshyor becomes very real,” he said.
Bengal home secretary Ardhendu Sen, who was here on August 27, stressed the need for a thorough study on the hills before a master plan is prepared to battle landslides. “We will have to identify an agency which can do the job and take the help of engineering colleges and universities,” Sen had said in a meeting with the NGO and senior officials.
Today, Rao echoed Sen. A comprehensive study of the area was needed to find a long-term solution to the problem, he said.“I know this will require time and money, but half-hearted and piecemeal actions in the present situation will be of no help.”
Comments by Praful Rao
Chibo- Pashyor have been featured earlier on the blog and lie on the west face of Kalimpong. The stop -gap, quick fix landslide prevention work which have been resorted to in this area for decades has only spelt doom for this entire region. Many parts of this village are now in a precarious state - the trouble is that this area is now densely populated.

My thanx to Ms Aachal Tamang for the photos

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Our 20th Awareness Program :13Aug2009 Army School, Kalimpong

Besides acting as a pressure group to have landslide prevention work initiated, one of STH's primary roles has been to raise awareness about landslides. To this end, we have carried out extensive work amongst students who are our primary target and then amongst a varied cross-section of people which includes University lecturers, Police and Army officers, villagers and urban folk.
I am glad to say that 2 years and 20 programs down the line, awareness has become so much more acute here and not a week goes by without some sort of activity taking place about landslide hazards.
In the future, we have some big programs looming up plus an Inter-School Marathon being organized with the theme "SaveThe Hills" in the next week.

Praful Rao

Friday, August 28, 2009

Progress of sorts..Meeting with Govt Officials (27Aug2009)

An Excerpt from the Telegraph
Study must for master plan: Sen
- official wants tech colleges in battle against landslides

Kalimpong, Aug. 27: Home secretary Ardhendu Sen today said a thorough study would have to be conducted in the hills before a master plan was worked out to battle landslides.

The need to prepare the master plan for the Kalimpong subdivision was mooted at a meeting attended by the home secretary and a local NGO.

After attending a series of meetings at Deolo, about 5km from here today, Sen said: “We will have to identify an agency which can do the job and take the help of engineering colleges and universities.”

People cross a makeshift bamboo bridge after a culvert was washed away by a landslide at
Chinna Dara. Picture by Chinlop Fudong Lepcha

Save The Hills (STH), the NGO actively engaged in espousing the landslide issue, gave a power-point presentation on the damage caused by the mudslips in and around the town. Apart from Sen, principal secretary of disaster management M. L. Meena, Darjeeling district magistrate Surendra Gupta and Kalimpong subdivisional officer Amyas Tshering were also present at the meeting. STH president Praful Rao, who made the presentation along with colleague Upendra Mani Pradhan, said the master plan should be prepared after thoroughly studying the hill topography, land use pattern, building plans and drainage system.

“A comprehensive master plan is a must for a long term solution, although we must realise it will not be possible to stop landslides from occurring completely. It is also important to have a proper disaster management programme in place,” he added.

The home secretary said the subdivision had suffered a loss of Rs 80 crore in the recent landslides and 400 houses had been fully damaged.

The subdivisional officer and district magistrate, he said, would prepare a report on the basis of which Rs 25,000 would be given to each family whose houses had been completely damaged in landslides last week.

Two other immediate measures that the administration would take are diversion of streams to save houses and villages and construction of temporary pathways in places where bridges and culverts have been completely damaged. “For the long-term restoration, we are making an estimate,” said Sen.

On NH31A, the home secretary said the Darjeeling DM will meet the NHPC in a day or two to impress upon it the need to expedite the restoration of the road above its dam site at 27 Mile, about 25km from here. The landslide at that spot is the worst on the highway that connects Siliguri to Kalimpong and Gangtok.

The home secretary was in Darjeeling yesterday where he agreed to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s proposal to add 1400 houses to the list of house owners who will be compensated for the havoc wreaked by Cyclone Aila in May.

Comment by Praful Rao
Those present in the meeting were :-
1. Mr Ardhendu Sen(IAS), Home Secy (W.B) 2. Mr ML Meena (IAS), Principal Secy, Disaster Management (W.B) 3. Mr Surendra Gupta(IAS), District Magistrate, Darjeeling 4. Mr Amyas Tsering(WBCS), SDO, Kalimpong 5. Executive Engineers, Mr Yogesh Pradhan (Kalimpong Engineering Division) , Mr Kapil Dahal (Irrigation Dept), Mr Anil Chhetri (Public Health Engineering), Mr C Rai (Power Dept), Mr PR Pradhan (Rural Dev), Mr MANV Prasad O/C 764 BRTF, Ms Diki Pradhan(WBCS( Dy Magistrate 6. STH members and engineers Mr UM Pradhan and Ms Gayatri Kharel


Monday, August 24, 2009

19Aug2009 : 189.2mm of rainfall and 3deaths

Case Study : Landslide situation around Kalimpong town (Aug2009)

“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”

- Subhas Ranjan Basu (University of Kolkata) and Sunil Kr De (University of Tripura)

1. Meteorological background.

While rainfall data for the months of May, June and July 2009 reveal that the district has had deficient rainfall, what is significant is that rainfall has been extremely erratic.
Thus, despite less precipitation, we have had major landslides this year coinciding with periods of intense, heavy rainfall:-

  • 24May-27May2009 - Cyclone Aila.
    Resulted in 27 deaths and major destruction in
    Darjeeling and Kurseong

  • 2July2009, 112mm of rain (in Kalimpong).
    Resulted in some deaths and a large number of landslides in Nimbong (Kalimpong sub-division).
  • 15Aug2009, 152mm of rain over 18hr period.
    Resulted in death and destruction in Kurseong and Kalimpong
  • 19Aug2009, 189.2mm of rainfall in Kalimpong.
    Resulted in major destruction in and around Kalimpong town and several deaths in Mirik,
    Kalimpong subdivision and Sikkim.

Historically speaking, most of the major landslides in Darjeeling district have occurred towards the end of the monsoons i.e. when the earth is saturated with water and the trigger for landslides is a burst of high intensity rainfall.
Thus, severe landslides occurred in the district in Sep1899, Oct1968 and Sep2007.
As such the urgent need for preparedness to deal with recurrence of such devastation during Aug-Oct 2009.

2. Landslide situation in areas surveyed after 19Aug2009.
Placed below is a report on the situation of the affected areas visited on 20/21/22Aug2009.

a) Chibo & Pashyor area.
A designated “sinking zone” for decades but which is densely populated now. As on date both these places remain isolated from Kalimpong town after road access and bridges were washed away on 19Aug09 by the many rivulets (jhoras) which plough through this area. Judging by the extent of damage, it is unlikely that these communication links can be restored quickly.
A large number of fast flowing jhoras/rivulets are the primary source of major landslides here though a contributory factor also may be the paddy cultivation in Chibo & Pashyor.

b) 7th Mile (Pachis Dhurey), 8th Mile (Shali Khop) area.
A number of houses at Pachis Dhurey are now vulnerable due to slopes which have been destabilized. In Shali khop, a large landslide became active in Sep2007 and has worsened this year after the heavy rains in Aug. The slide has decimated a road which connects several villages in the Nursery Gaon area of Shalikhop to the arterial road to Kalimpong town. The slide has also affected 3 fresh water sources which supply water to approx 100 houses in this neighbourhood.

c) Chota Bhalukhop area.
This is a densely populated zone lying below the sub-divisional Hospital and Macfarlane church complex. In Sep2007, there were major landslides (and two deaths) here caused by poor drainage. Despite having pointed this out, no work was done to change or improve the drainage over the last two years as such the torrential downpours in Aug09 resulted in numerous landslides in this area.
In view of the population density here, further landslides in this place could result in a large number of casualties.

d) Soureni village and Bara Bhalukhop area.
Rock falls at Soureni village originate at the crest of Deolo Hill. In view of the steepness of this place and size of rocks the only choice maybe to relocate this village in case of further landslides.
Bara Bhalukhop lies directly below Soureni and Tirpai and has several large landslides due to which a number of families have lost arable land. Comparatively, the population in this area is less than that in Chota Bhalukhop.

e) TV tower area and Tirpai.
The TV tower area (and Saipatri gaon) constitutes an old landslide area where there were a number of fatalities in the Oct1968 landslides.

In Sep2007, this area again became active forcing the people to take shelter in a nearby unoccupied shopping complex.
On 19Aug2009, there were a number of small landslides in this area; more would have certainly followed had the rain continued. So in view of the dense population, the area needs to be watched in case of heavy rain. The western face of Tirpai bazaar too has been destabilized with cracks and landslides occurring at numerous places along the ridge.

f) East Main Road area.
Lying on the eastern face of the Kalimpong ridge, this area was earlier very stable. In 2009, a number of rivulets / jhoras charged by run-off from built up places in Durpin (army cantonment zone) have ploughed up portions of this area and a number of landslides have occurred, especially, directly below Durpin. 3 bridge/culverts in this area have been destroyed by the rains in Aug09 and the drinking water source of a number of houses in the East Main Road area have been affected.

g) Bong bustee area.
Lying directly below (f), it was again one of the most stable areas of Kalimpong. The same drains or jhoras which have caused problems in (f) have caused a number of new landslides in Aug2009 especially in the vicinity of Bong church and Animal Shelter.

h) Sindebung.
This comprises of fertile farmland in the underbelly of Kalimpong. A serious landslide situation has existed here for many decades with numerous jhoras/rivulets from the town and Dr Graham’s Homes area dissecting these farmlands. Much farmland has been lost to landslides in the past and in Aug2009; the already serious situation has only become worse.

i) Dr Graham’s Homes, Dalapchand and 14th Mile areas.
Though there were major landslides in these areas in Sep2007, in Aug2009, they were relatively stable.

3. Conclusion

  • Cause of landslides.
    The cause of landslides is the high intensity of rainfall coupled with poor drainage.
    Over the years there has been a vast increase in urban/built up areas which has led to extremely high volume surface runoff water. The jhoras /rivulets which are fed by this water are simply incapable of handling this huge overload of high velocity water since no jhora/river training (and other landslide preventive) work has been carried out in the district for decades; this is leading to soil erosion and landslides on an unprecedented scale.
    This is compounded by the fact that many of the over populated vulnerable slopes appear to be where unplanned (illegal) settlements have mushroomed and where there is virtually no drainage.
    Thus the causes are largely anthropogenic
  • Damage assessment.
    It is apparent that in Aug2009, barring the town itself, almost all areas in the vicinity of Kalimpong town suffered damage equal to or more than Darjeeling did during Cyclone Aila (except for the fact that there was no major loss of life).
  • Prognosis.
    The intense bursts of rainfall on 15 and 19Aug09 have led to outright damage in many areas or a condition where one or more concentrated showers on a similar scale will lead to landslides in many structurally weakened slopes resulting in large scale loss of life and property – such susceptible areas exist in virtually all the zones mentioned above.
    With the monsoons expected to last until 12Oct2009 (as per IMetD), the likelihood of such high intensity rainfall recurring is very real.
  • Possible solutions.
    a) Whereas, firefighting (preventive) engineering measures such as retaining wall construction, drainage correction, river/jhora training etc are being resorted to, the sheer magnitude of damage will not permit meaningful work to be undertaken in all the vulnerable areas in the time available (Aug-Oct 09).
    It is therefore necessary to empower the communities to deal with the situation as best they can, if and when heavy and concentrated burst of rainfall occurs. This can only be achieved by carrying out an intense awareness campaign amongst the affected people on community based disaster risk management (CBDRM).
    c) Whereas SaveTheHills has been engaged in raising awareness about landslide hazards in the district for the past two years, it is urgently requested that NIDM carry out crash courses on this aspect, in Kalimpong immediately.
  • A word of caution.
    Not withstanding this, it goes without saying that all agencies/ NGOs involved in post disaster relief should remain on high alert should there be intense rain in the month or more that monsoons will be active in this region.

Comment by Praful Rao
I visited all the above areas between 20-22Aug2009 and have met scores of desperate, anxious people who spend sleepless nights whenever it starts raining. Even though I have written the conclusions, the views are not mine alone but those I have gleaned from the many discussions I have had with ordinary people and experts.
Lastly, the entire report has been mailed to the National Disaster Management Authority and District Magistrate (Darjeeling) amongst many others.