Saturday, June 29, 2019

An event of Note : Dialogue on Rejuvenation of Himalayan Springs : Kalimpong Park Hotel, 02Jul2019 at 0930hrs

If any news is dominating these days in India, it is water or its shortage thereof and the Indian Himalayas despite being 'the Third Pole' is not far behind the rest of the country in this regard.
It is well known that mountain springs which are our life line have been drying up at an alarming rate all along the IHR.
The above project undertaken between ICIMOD and The Mountain Institute (Gangtok) is the first intervention in Kalimpong even though several other organizations have also been working in the rejuvenation of springs in the Darjeeling-Kalimpong districts and the stakeholders dialogue on 02Jul2019 is in regard meant to put all on an even keel about what is being attempted, where and the work involved.

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district
Darjeeling- Sikkim HImalaya

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Flood scare in Sikkim and Kalimpong district (W.Bengal) - 17Jun2019

The Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya has thus far had very deficient in rainfall (see below)

 The SW monsoons finally arrived over the Darjeeling Sikkim Himalayas on 16Jun2019 almost 10 days late and we had relief from the heat here when there was a smattering of rainfall given by clouds shown:

Rainfall figures for 16/17Jun2019 are given (source IMD):

So I was rather surprised when we started getting flood alert messages from Sikkim on 17Jun afternoon on WhatsApp, that due to a 'cloud burst' in North Sikkim, the level of the Teesta river was rising dramatically and parts of Singtam (Adarsh Gaon), a business town one hour short of Gangtok and other low lying areas along NH10 were in danger.
Having kept a close look on the weather and rainfall of the region, which was nowhere near extreme, I personally feel that the dams at Chungthang and Dikchu in Sikkim had released large volumes of water after the rains which resulted in the Teesta river level rising sharply. I am aware that most of these dams are run-of-the-river dams, yet considering the steep descent path of the Teesta river and its turbulence, I do believe the volumes of water released caused the flood-like situation.
In this regard, I refer readers to the Youtube video below:

Updates on the above event:
Rainfall data of 17/18Jun (0830hrs to 0830hrs) available now:
Sankalan: 140mm
Mangan: 70mm
Chungthang: 50mm

(Source IMD)

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district,
Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Waste management and landslides in Kalimpong: Peter's perspective

This post was written primarily by Peter McGowran, a PhD candidate at King’s College London who is undertaking extended fieldwork in Kalimpong over the next 6 months, working with Save the Hills throughout. Praful Rao of Save the Hills (STH) also had significant input on this post. The views expressed below are Peter's.

My main focus is landslide risk management, specifically the development processes which lead to the creation of landslide risk and the ways in which these processes can be changed — through governance — so that landslide risk is reduced. I am generally interested in how different communities can imagine and work towards more sustainable futures. I am writing my own blog during my time in The Hills, available here. If you would like more information on my research, you can reach me at

In this blog, I will cover my activities with Praful and STH from 5th-7th of June 2019. On Wednesday I attended the Kalimpong Municipality World Environment Day event on waste management. On Thursday and Friday I visited a number of old landslide sites and landslide prone areas around Kalimpong, as well as the Kalimpong waste dump which has recently been shut down. I will give some general information on each site and give some of my reflections on the environmental issues facing Kalimpong.

Wednesday (05Jun2019):

I arrived in Kalimpong at a time when the problem of solid waste management was the ‘burning issue’ of the day. Only 4 days after my arrival, there was to be an event held at the town hall where the issue of plastic waste would be discussed. The event was organised by the Kalimpong Municipality and was part of Kalimpong’s ‘World Environment Day’ (05Jun2019) activities.

The event was useful for me to understand the problems facing solid waste management in Kalimpong specifically. It is worth noting that Kalimpong’s geography means it has some specific obstacles to overcome in relation to waste management:

  • Space- Kalimpong does not have vast amounts of flat areas which might usually be used for landfill and/or other waste management initiatives 
  • Drainage - Kalimpong’s urban centre sits at the top of the hill. Communities downstream often suffer the most from the solid waste disposed of at the top of t, as it is washed down in jhoras (natural rivulets). This is not only unfair but impacts some of Kalimpong’s agricultural areas too. Roshan Rai of DLR Prerna discussed the increasing problem of plastic waste infiltrating our food, water and even our own bodies. These problems are directly related to the issue of plastic waste polluting agricultural areas and bodies of water, as happens in Kalimpong.
  • Complexity of environmental issues faced in Kalimpong - Managing solid waste management can have other environmental impacts which are specific to Kalimpong and other communities which have similar geographies. For example, the old waste dump below the MacFarlane memorial church contributed to the occurrence of a major landslide in the vicinity of Kalimpong townin 2007, covered by STH at the time.  
Nonetheless, the issue of solid waste management is a problem that Kalimpong shares with communities the world over. Solutions exist, but their implementation will require us to make difficult decisions about our everyday lives and the status quo of our political and economic system. The solutions can be broadly placed into two main categories.
The first is changing individual behaviour, and the second involves systemic change. The two of course are interconnected, but this categorisation can help us to the issues. For example, changing individual behaviour in relation to single use plastics would go a long way to addressing the problem of plastic pollution in Kalimpong. This would be done by first reducing, refusing, reusing and recycling single-use plastic products; and second segregating what remains so that the municipality can manage it more efficiently. People can also work collectively in small groups to hold those in positions of power to account for not tackling these issues through legislation and policy-making. This would force big businesses to take action on a problem which they create, but take no responsibility to address. Civil society needs to make it clear that their responsibility for the waste does not end at the point of sale. Without this, we won’t be able to ‘turn off the tap’ and get real about dealing with this crisis. Collectively, these small-scale solutions can lead to systemic change. Until these things happen, we will continue to get single-use plastics in our lunchboxes.

Thursday (06June2019)
Kalimpong’s Waste Dump:

On Thursday, Praful and his cousin were showing me around various landslide prone areas of Kalimpong. As part of the field trip, they drove me to Kalimpong’s recently disused waste dump, situated in Newar Gaon, Bhalukhop, Kalimpong. The dump was supposed to work in tandem with the expensive biogas generation plant next to it, which only worked for a couple of months and is now completely defunct. The dump was shut down after it caught fire on 12/04/19, causing local villagers to complain about the toxic fumes. Their claims that the dump and its fumes were harmful to their health were completely justified. The dump is now constantly burning, with the gases released perpetuating the flames. The fumes released from this are incredibly harmful and caused me to choke more than once. You can see the scale of the problem in the photos below and this short video.

Pictures of the dump

Since the closure of the dump, piles of waste have been accumulating all around Kalimpong. With nowhere for it to go, the waste gathers where rainwater deposits it or at points which become designated as local dumpsites. People are also piling waste around their houses. Many of these piles of waste are being burned. I really can’t stress enough that burning this waste is not a solution and probably makes things worse. Numerous studies have shown how incredibly harmful the burning of plastics is on human health. The below excerpt from a review of current research suggests that burning plastic waste can:

‘Increase the risk of heart disease, aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema, and cause rashes, nausea, or headaches, damages in the nervous system, kidney or liver, in the reproductive and development system. The burning of polystyrene polymers - such as foam cups, meat trays, egg containers, yogurt and deli containers - releases styrene. Styrene gas can readily be absorbed through the skin and lungs’

Walking around Kalimpong, I have seen the smoke from burning plastic filling people’s homes and lungs. This is causing immense harm to people’s health, particularly children. The issue of health should be at the forefront of the campaign for government and industry to stop creating single use plastics. These issues appear to be worse in The Hills, perhaps due to the specific problems outlined above. A recent government study found that annual air pollution has recently decreased in all parts of West Bengal apart from Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts. 

Burning plastic is not only a health issue. Plastic releases a large amount of greenhouse-gas emissions which contribute to climate change. The impacts of which are unclear but are almost certain to affect Kalimpong in future. This will be through unsettling established rainfall patterns, increasing heavy rainfall events and melting Himalayan icecaps; which will impact the already-stressed water supplies of places like Kalimpong. 

What can be done about the plastic waste currently piling up on the streets and blocking the jhoras of Kalimpong? First, it is important to note that the solution to the plastic waste crisis as a whole is to stop producing plastic especially single-use. However, it is important to think about how we can deal with the single use plastic we have already created — through methods other than burning/incineration. On a personal level, I believe the schemes which look to re-purpose and reuse plastics are the most sustainable options. This often centres around re-purposing plastic for construction materials, like in this project funded by the UK Department for International Development and numerous other examples which can be found by a google search. This is an idea which is being developed the world over, and maybe a solution which could be pursued in Kalimpong. In order for this to happen, there will need to be engagement from high levels of government and funds made available for research and implementation.


For the rest of Thursday, Praful showed me some of the most landslide prone areas of Kalimpong’s Western face. To get a good view of the overall situation — and after a good lunch — we crossed the Teesta into Darjeeling district and climbed the opposite hill to get a good vantage point of the hill which Kalimpong sits on. From here, it was possible to see landslide scars all the way up the Chibo-Pashyor jhora. 

Our route involved climbing back up the hill and stopping at various points along the jhora to look at landslide prone areas and understand the processes which lead to landslides happening.

A very quick explanation of some processes which lead to landslide occurrence:

As one would expect, the jhora widens as it descends down the hill. This is a natural process and reflects the basics of geology and hydrology. As the channel widens, the land around falls into the jhoras, unsettling the land in a wider radius. This happens in the monsoon, when the jhoras overflow with run-off water. Kalimpong is particularly susceptible to this due to its geology, which has lead to extremely soft and silty rocks. You can see this in this video where I am able to simply run my hand over the bank of the jhora and remove a chunk of rock which then crumbles in my hand. These natural processes have been amplified by the frenetic urban development at the crest of the hill in Kalimpong town. These activities include: urbanisation, laying concrete down for roads and buildings, artificially pumping water into the town, blocking drains with solid waste, and deforestation. As a result, the jhoras have become more eroded and increased the amount of land which is at risk of slipping. This combined with the creeping downhill urbanisation of Kalimpong Town and surrounding villages means that the risk of landslides occuring which will have negative impacts on human lives is constantly increasing (Rumbach and Folligstad 2018, Rumbach and Nemeth 2018). Below I will work through our journey back up the hill along the jhora:

The Jhora near the bottom of the hill – near Pashyor village:

Here the jhora is very wide. There is evidence of land and rocks falling into the channel from the land around, and also signs that this will continue throughout the coming monsoon. There is also a wooden bridge over the channel, which Praful expects to disappear during the first week of the monsoon. 

Our penultimate stop – some more ‘concrete’ engineering work:

This was the first place where we saw some management of the jhora. The engineering consisted of concrete river training and a concrete bridge over the top. It remains to be seen whether this bridge will survive the monsoon rains. The river training below might help the bridge’s chances, but this concretisation is also a concern for increasing the run-off further downstream. Concrete — here and all over — prevents water from absorbing into the ground which would decreas run-off and in so-doing replenish Kalimpong’s water supply.

Reaching the top of the hill – Chibo-Bustee:

After a short drive we reached Chibo-Bustee, where we saw the most obvious evidence of land-slippage. The land around the jhora is not only directly affected by the jhora, but also by subsidence further downstream. The pictures below show some signs of land-slippage and erosion. It is difficult to predict whether landslides will happen here over the monsoon, though it could be said that landslides will continue to occur here in the long run.

Friday (07June2019):

The plan for Friday was similar to Thursday, only this time we would be looking at Kalimpong’s Eastern slope. Before setting off, Praful showed me one of the sites of the Oct 1968 Landslide Disaster where around 15 people had perished, just a few minutes’ walk from his house. The area is now completely built over. The aim of disaster risk management must be to ensure that such events never happen again.

We then headed towards the northern fringes of Kalimpong (in the Dalapchand area) and stopped at two jhora/road crossings. Landslides had occurred at both sites in the past, and the second site particularly was showing signs of erosion shown in an old picture below (the cracks are still there). In the case of the latter, a road construction over the jhora and a stone quarry some way further downstream had unsettled the land. This site is a concern for the water management office as there are a number of vital supply pipes directly above this site.

At a road bridge crossing over a different jhora further down the hill, we saw some landslide mitigation and river-training work. In the case of river training at a road crossing, the work is done by the Public Works Department (PWD) and the river (jhora) training only covers around 5-10 metres up and downstream of the road crossing in order to protect the road — meaning that the run-off is controlled and then is allowed to strengthen again after passing over the engineered channel. The mitigation works have worked for now, but were showing that over the years they had been seriously damaged by slippage and erosion. The jhora also reflects most other jhoras in Kalimpong, in that they serve as convenient waste disposal receptacles.

After a lunch of momos and noodles, we took a steep and rough road to Sindebung village. We walked through the village and some farmland and then reached a site of an old landslide in the bowels of Kalimpong town, which continues to subside. An elderly villager came out to meet us and explained where his land was before 1968, when the infamous rainfall event had triggered slippage which has continued to eat away at his land since. He also explained that as a result, himself and other villagers previously landowners who could sell their own produce had been forced to work as daily wage labourers/coolies. He also explained that the land next to his house continued to slip and was creating cracks all over his home. The edge of the hill was so close now that they would have to move their house further back and away from the slope. We then walked a little further down the hill to the jhora where some years back STH had secured funding from the MP Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) for some river training work to be done shown in the photo below. It has been largely successful in this small area so far, but the continued subsidence of the nearby land — described above shows that it is not enough to prevent slippage from occurring. 

Overall reflections – this is a problem bigger than Kalimpong:

Many of the processes described above are natural. The geology combined with the climate of this region means that the land is moulded and shaped by the water which falls heavily during the monsoon. Anthropogenic processes mean that the rate of this land-change has been amplified, and the impacts of these changes — or landslides — are viewed as ‘disasters’ by society. Kalimpong cannot rely on engineering alone to ensure that the impact of these landslides is reduced. A more sustainable approach is to not treat nature as something we need to fight against through engineering — especially when it is considered that in this ‘fight’ we are actively helping our so-called opponent by amplifying what it is capable of through our own obsession with concrete, single-use plastic and endless economic growth. Instead, we should re-engage with the natural processes and work with them to understand how we can work with them to reduce the impact of landslides, rather than exacerbate them. 
For Kalimpong and the world, an important part of this will be to stop taking naturally occurring materials and turning them into man-made products. Large companies take oil — made out of organic materials which have decomposed over millenia — out of the ground turn it into petrol and single-use plastic which people use then bury or burn. People in Kalimpong and the rest of the world take rock out of mountains and turn it into concrete, which then puts pressure on the very same slopes it was removed from — causing landslides. These products are harmful to our health, our environment and our future. There are other options available and we must start to prioritize them over concrete, plastic and petrol. If we don’t, the impact of landslides will continue to grow; established weather patterns will become more erratic; and plastic will continue to build up in our food supply, water supply and bodies. We will descend into a catastrophe that will arrive slowly, and gradually degrade our quality of life to the extent that we are unable to reverse the damage we have brought upon ourselves. 

Peter McGowran - King's College London


My thanks to Peter for his interest in this region and for the above post.

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district,
Darjeeling- Sikkim Himalaya

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

IMPACT: a photo-essay on impact of landslides in the Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya


IMPACT is a photo-essay done by a layman (yrs truly) for laypersons on the impact of landslides on human beings in this region. I have compiled the photos from a 11yr period (except for those shared by Das Studio, Darjeeling) and have woven my observations/comments on them.
It is by no means complete and will be continued. What I am extremely apologetic about is the lack of hard core data since I did not have access to district or state records on the huge impact of landslides on loss of life, land, compensation paid or of rainfall while making this presentation.
Regrets for that.
I also have not included any technical details of the landslides shown in the images simply because I have no access to them.

Praful Rao,
Kalimpong district,
Darjeeling - Sikkim Himalaya