Friday, December 28, 2007

Landslide-prone Tungsung

Courtesy Mr Udhyan Rai Editor (19Sep2007)

Landslides and related phenomena are a common occurrence in and around Darjeeling. Records since 1849 show sharp acceleration in landslide rates. In 1899, the first major landslide occurred in Tungsung followed by others in 1934, 1950, 1968 and 1980.

The TungSung area of Darjeeling town is a densely populated commercial urban tract situated along the eastern spur of the Jalpahar • Lebong ridge and cover an area of 1.8 sq. Km.

The area is composed of rocks belonging to the Darjeeling Gneiss group. Such rocks are generally highly jointed and weathered. Fresh rock has been found along some very steep slopes.

Highly weathered rock and talus materials are found around St. Paul’s School, while the vertical rock face below the school joints dipping N 50 ˚W • 550 ˚E, N 75 ˚W • S 75˚ E, N 25˚ E • S 25˚ W and N 30˚ E • S 30˚ E. Foliation is also common and the prominent altitudes are N 30˚ E • S 30˚ W dip 6˚ and N 10˚ E • S 10˚ dip 25˚ .

Two major inclined faults have been recognized of which one is near the TungSung ZigZag and other near the Dengle Jhora. Granites also found around the St. Paul’s tennis court. Garnetiferous granite is found along the Tenzing Norgay road and a pegmatite vein has been identified near ZigZag.

A rocky slopes and hilltops show a thick mantle of brown sandy micaceous soil with rock fragments varying from large blocks to boulder and pebble sizes. The eastern slope of the Katakpahar • Jalpahar ridge along which TungSung is situated is one of the steepest parts of the town, where average slope is between 30˚ • 40˚ and as high as 60˚ • 65˚ in some places.

The slope show a predominance of convexity and rectilinear. However, minor concavity has developed due to slope failures e.g. Dengle Jhora and Manpari Busty.

The hill slopes are heterogeneous in profile, being commonly flatter towards the crest and steeper down hill. The overburden of course, textured soil has varying capacity to retain moisture and rest on rocks of variable dip, composition and decay and generally tends to slide down-slope as and when stress concedes resistance.

Landform and slope development is often controlled by the relative degree of physical and chemical weathering of rocks. Initially, the fragmentation is controlled in terms of size by the spacing of litho logical and structural discontinuities in the parent rocks followed by further splitting.

Bedrock is thus degraded into a colluvial mantle, which covers a large part of the TungSung area in the form of stress and debris.

Soil in the TungSung area is leached, gravelly and grey to brown in colour with soil • profile varying in the thickness from 0.1 m to 9.0m depending on the degree of slope,

Vegetation and nature of parent minerals. Very thick soil profiles ranging from 5 to 9 m have been found near Dengle Jhora, the youth hostel and St. Paul’s School main gate. Very shallow to skeletal soil • profiles have been located between Dengle Jhora and Manpari Busty. The two types of soil that have been identified are:
1. Micaceous sandy soil with poor cohesion, and
2. Brown, clayey soil with decomposed mica, sand and rock fragments with good cohesion.

While landslides generally occur during heavy rain but the action of the precipitated water is more like the trigger of a gun since it delivers the last blow when other factors have already brought the slope nearly to the point of failure.

The annual precipitation of this region ranges between 2650 to 2900mm. Rainfall is concentrated from June to September. High intensity rainfall associated with cloud burst has been found to occur quite frequently and perhaps contributes the trigger Mechanism that initiates the slide.

The ISI Seismic zone map of India 1971 places the TungSung area in zone V, and the related co-efficient should be taken into consideration in formulating the design and layout of buildings and other constructions.

The eastern spur of the Jalpahar • Lebong ridge is composed of soil, talus and scree materials, which are liable to slip unless suitable protective measures are adopted. The foliation dips of gneissic rocks are easterly at an angle varying from 15˚ to 25˚, while the dominant slope vary from 40˚ to 60˚ towards the east. Hence, if a suitable condition prevails, the top layers may either creep or slip downwards.

Although under normal circumstances such slopes may appear stable, sudden overloading of them through heavy precipitation or construction may reduce the shearing resistance of their component material causing them to ultimately yield under gravitational pull.

It has been observed that except in 1934, all major landslide events had occurred after heavy and continuous rain, which triggered the slides when other factors had already brought the slope near to the point of failure.

It is evident that the force causing slips is the combination of weight of the materials and gravity, with gravitational pull increasing when the slope has been steepened either due to under cutting by drainage elements or by human agencies.

In TungSung area, most buildings constructed after buildings, back cutting into the hill face (even in culverts or Jhoras) for developing new building sites. Widening of terraces by dumping of soil along their edge in Rock Ville area led slipping along the edge, which could not be prevented merely constructing retaining wall or protection wall.

Before taken up of any type of construction soil testing is very important but very few construction Cos. such as five elements construction Co stick to this rule. Deep soil in the area, which is derived from the underlying gneisses, shows progressive deterioration of shearing resistance by weathering following from formation of clay minerals from feldspar and biotitic.

Landslides are a pertinent natural phenomenon over the TungSung area. While they cannot be prevented entirely, they can be checked to a large extent. It is an obligation, therefore on the part of every individuals and concerned local elected and empowered agencies dealing with the welfare of people and beautiful mother town Darjeeling to implement remedial measures already suggested by professionals and their various studies from time tot time.

Slopes 0˚ to 15˚ are the most suitable for urban uses, 15˚ to 30˚ is suitable for certain specific uses, 30˚ to 45˚ is suitable for small residential construction, 45˚ to 60˚ can only be use under very specific categories. Slope above 60˚ is very dangerous to use.

Soil types of TungSung and their characteristics indicate that dominant soil is loamy sand to sandy loam. Perpetration resistance ranges between 4.5 kg /sq. cm to 6.6 kg /sq. cm, corresponding to the strength suitable for the construction of two to three storied buildings but unfortunately there are so many four to seven storied gigantic buildings standing in this area, which is very risky and dangerous in near future. Local administrative authorities and elected bodies must take strict necessary steps to check such dangerous constructions. Slope materials of this are is highly sensitive and no further construction should be allowed there.

Mr. Sangay Tashi Dugpa
Tenzin Norgay Road
Tenzing Norgay Building


Comment by praful rao

I met Mr Udhyan Rai, the webmaster and editor of (DT), just a few days back in Kalimpong. I was quite surprised that both savethehills (STH) and DT were working on the same issue 4 months ago when the mountains were cracking up all over the district.
I reproduce the above article and photo with his kind permission (italics are mine)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A reminder to the District Magistrate


The District Magistrate,



Meeting with departments involved with preventive action against landslides

Dear Sir,

Reference is made to the meeting held at the Circuit house, Darjeeling on 02 Nov2007 between representatives of “savethehills” and Mr A Purkayastha (IAS), Principal Secretary, Disaster Management, Govt of W Bengal.

2. It is roughly halfway between the end of the last monsoons (Sep2007) and the beginning of the next one (May2008). As you know many areas of the district were severely damaged by landslides in Sep2007 – some such hazard zones (an example is the area around Mr Anil Shankar’s residence in the Homes dispensary area, Kalimpong – photos of which can be seen at and some parts of Harsingh bustee, Darjeeling) which have human habitation will, in all probability collapse in the next monsoons unless adequate preventive action is taken now.

3. As was decided during the meeting in Circuit house on 02 Nov2007, and in view of the fact the monsoons are barely 4 months away, we request you to kindly convene a meeting with all departments concerned with prevention of landslides (including those under Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council -DGHC) to check the progress of measures being undertaken and allow selected representatives of civil society attend the same.

Thanking you

(Prafulla Rao)

Wg Cdr (retd)



Copy to:-


Comment by Praful Rao

The above letter has been couriered to both the DM and the CPS (DGHC) on 21Dec2007. A press release to that effect has also been given.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Taking stock ..and an image to remind us of what happened in Sep2007

Having reached the halfway mark between the end of the monsoons (Sep2007) and the beginning of another one (May2008) it is time we took stock and evaluate just what has happened since Sept2007and looked what needs to be done further:-

What we know:-

a) The Government of West Bengal and DGHC (Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council) at the highest levels, have been made aware of the extent of damage caused by the Sep 2007 rains and necessity of preventive action against landslides. I am personally aware that some Govt officials have taken reports/ photographs from .

b) Public awareness about landslides and slide prevention has increased a lot, thanks to a intense press coverage by the local media (both electronic and print).

c) After a gap of 8 yrs some funds have been released to the Irrigation Dept in Kalimpong for landslide prevention works. There are 13 odd projects for which schemes have been sent to DGHC, this would amount to a requirement of Rs1.5crore approx, the money sanctioned till date however is a pittance.
I am not aware of any preventive work taking place in other parts of the district due to lack of inputs from those areas.

d) The PWD (Public Works Dept) is also doing some preventive work in landslide zones next to the roads. Two places where these are taking place are at 14th mile, 11thmile, in Kalimpong.
Again no inputs from other areas of the district.

e) Geological Survey of India (GSI) has carried out a detailed survey of Kalimpong and its surroundings. 2 scientists were here for 11days and some of us at savethehills were actively involved in taking them to landslide areas. We will obtain the reports as and when they are released.

I have no inputs regarding Darjeeling and other towns.

f) We held a very successful public demonstration on 17Nov2007 demanding preventive action against landslides. This is the first one of its kind as far as I know and the SDO (Sub Divisional Officer), Kalimpong had promised to hold a meeting between the concerned departments working in slide prevention and us. That is yet to materialize.

What we will be doing:-

a) Requesting the SDO, Kalimpong for a meeting with the concerned departments working in slide prevention.

b) Continuing with awareness programs. We will be carrying out these in schools, clubs and so on.

Any other suggestions??

I would hate to assume that any of the positive developments (like the GSI visit) which have been enumerated above are the result of savethehills action. Whereas some preventive work is taking place at least in Kalimpong, the measures being taken are far from adequate and too slow.

Some time ago, a friend of mine told me that I was unduly worried, that nature operates in cycles and seldom does disaster strike the same area repeatedly. So most probably next year and perhaps for many years to come, the monsoons will be more kind to us than in 2007.

With four months to go for the rains, I just HOPE what he told me is true.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Press coverage of FAX ( refer earlier blog)

Disaster cell cry in hills


Kalimpong, Dec. 12: Save The Hills (STH), a conglomeration of different hill-based organisations, has called for the setting up of a nodal agency to deal with disaster management in Darjeeling district.

In a letter faxed to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee yesterday, the conglomeration said the agency was necessary because at present both the Bengal government and the DGHC were handling disaster management separately in the hills.

“We were informed that prevention of disaster was not the responsibility of the district magistrate (alone) since many of the departments concerned with preventive work were not under them (him). This is contrary to the (provisions of the) Disaster Management Act 2005,” read the letter.

The act says all aspects of disaster management will come under the purview of a district authority headed by the district magistrate.

STH convener Praful Rao said the letter was drafted after discussion on disaster management with member organisations after the September landslides.

The conglomeration came into being in November and is yet to be registered.

Since September, the members made field visits to many landslide-affected areas. The STH had also assisted a two-member team of the Geological Survey of India during their 10-day study trip to Kalimpong that concluded yesterday.

The STH in its letter to the chief minister has also suggested the inclusion of the Darjeeling district in natural disaster surveys carried out in Sikkim.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

FAX to the Chief Minister, West Bengal (sent under a covering note on 11Dec2007)

Landslide hazard Darjeeling District : Points for consideration/implementation

The monsoons this year have caused tremendous damage in the hills of Darjeeling district. Though the documentation is by no means complete, a record of some of the devastation caused is available at both in terms of photographs as well as reports.

The Prime Minister in his inaugural address in the first Disaster Management Congress, New Delhi in Nov2006 spoke of the need to shift the focus of disaster management from a “relief-centric” and “post-event” response to “a regime that lays greater emphasis on preparedness, prevention and mitigation”.

In keeping with this and also the fact that this area is the most landslide prone in the country (as per GSI) and lies in zone IV of the earthquake hazard zone, we at “savethehills” (a group of concerned citizens in Darjeeling district), feel that preventive and mitigation action against landslides needs to be accelerated so as to minimize loss of life and property in the future. At the same time, post disaster management plans/methods should look towards managing a large scale disaster in mountainous terrain during the monsoons since the possibility of a super cyclone (such as SIDR in Nov2007) striking this area cannot be ignored.

In this regard, we would like to bring to your notice the following:-

1. Necessity of correcting an anomaly

It was apparent from our meeting with some state Govt officials, that in Darjeeling District, both the State Govt and DGHC were jointly in charge of disaster management. We were informed, that prevention of disaster was NOT the responsibility of the District Magistrate since many of the departments concerned with preventive work were not under him.

This is contrary to the Disaster Management Act 2005 Chapter IV (District Disaster Management Authority) Para 30 (Powers and Functions of District Authority) and needs to be addressed immediately.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: - A single nodal body may be identified in the district which is empowered to take ALL necessary action to deal with natural disaster in its entirety.

2. Urgent need to identify Critical Landslide Hazard Areas and carry out preventive action.

During the surveys carried out, we observed that some populated areas were in such a deteriorated condition that they would certainly collapse in heavy, incessant rain as can be expected in the next monsoons. Such areas need to be identified urgently and necessary work carried out on a war footing so as to mitigate or prevent landslides in such locations. This short term preventive work would mainly consist of repairing/ changing/ strengthening of the jhoras (mountain rivulets) and drainage system in these areas.

Drainage and jhora management is understandably a massive project which will require dedicated work on a long term basis also, besides requiring huge financial expenditure. An inventory (supported by mapping) of jhoras needs to be made and repair work prioritized since much of the landslide problem in 2007 arose from inadequate, antiquated and neglected drainage system (inclusive of jhoras) which could simply not handle the high volumes of water flowing in from the hugely increased/expanded urban areas. Since the survival of a large number of people in the district depends on tackling the drainage problem, the sooner this is done the better.

Also this would be wholly in keeping with the provisions of the Disaster Management Act 2005 Chapter IV (District Disaster Management Authority) Para 30, 31 (Powers and Functions of District Authority and District plan).

3. Mid term and Long term Preventive Action.

Besides these firefighting measures, mid term and long term preventive action also needs to be taken order to reduce soil erosion and landslides in the hills. Systematic soil mapping surveys in the district maybe undertaken and experts from such organizations as GSI or IITs may be brought in to suggest mid and long term solutions to the landslide problem which would then have to be implemented without fail.

4. Important Points requiring Attention.

We, at “savethehills” have discussed landslides and disaster management extensively since Sep2007, and the many points that have emerged as regards the possible causes and solutions are already documented at

Some of these in brief are:-

a) Relocation of people from vulnerable areas

Though a thorny and difficult subject to handle, this will be necessary in the future.

As such vulnerable zones maybe identified and further construction of settlements in these areas stopped forthwith, also contingency plans for relocating people from these areas (if not already available) maybe drawn up. Otherwise we will be faced with the problem of having large numbers of climate refugees in the future.

b) Development of satellite townships

Our major towns are highly overcrowded with no land available for further growth and population pressure adds to the landslide hazards in these towns by increasing illegal construction and construction in landslide prone areas. Therefore, there is an urgent necessity to develop satellite townships to reduce the population pressure on the main towns. These maybe planned in unpopulated khasmal areas, defunct tea gardens, wasteland or by sheer necessity, in land under the forest dept.

c) Checking of unplanned urban growth and abiding with regulations

It is unfortunate that though regulations are in place regarding height of buildings, soil testing, road construction and so on; scant attention has been paid to any of these, resulting in unplanned and rampant urban growth.

Whereas it may not be possible to reverse this, it is possible to prevent further damage by strictly enforcing regulations and imposing fines/ resorting to legal action against all those who flout these rules.

In this regard, no construction should be permitted in slopes of 40 degrees or more.

d) Afforestation plans

Afforestation programs needs to be pursued vigorously especially in denuded areas (to reverse the loss of forest cover to the maximum extent possible). In this regard it was observed that bamboo groves were a major contributor towards landslides in 2007 as such planting alternative and appropriate types of deep rooted trees must be undertaken in landslide prone areas.

e) Inclusion of Darjeeling district in all natural disaster surveys undertaken in Sikkim.

In Nov2007 a high level Central Team toured Sikkim to assess the damage caused by the rains in Sep (in response to a request made to the Prime Minister by the CM, Mr P Chamling). Though Darjeeling district is contiguous to it and a part of the same geographical area no damage assessment was carried out here even though in all probability the damage if equal to if not greater than in Sikkim. The monsoons punish Sikkim and the Darjeeling hills equally, hence damage assessments and repair work must also be identical.

f) Increase of compensation for loss of home/ life and payment without delay.

The present rate of compensation paid for loss (damaged to house 2000/-; total loss of home - 4000/- etc) due to natural calamity is totally inadequate and needs to enhanced substantially. Also compensation is often paid after much delay and harassment; this must stop forthwith and loss must be compensated as soon as possible.

g) Compensation for loss of land to farmers.

A major difference between floods and landslides is that in the former, the victims after the waters recede can return to their land; whereas in landslides there is often nothing to return to. Farmers who have lost their land in slides may therefore be adequately compensated with land since they depend on it for sustenance.

h) Installation of Early Warning System against landslides

The Centre for Disaster Management at Vellore has developed several schemes for early warning against landslides; since this area is the most landslide prone in the country it naturally follows that landslide prediction equipment should be installed and manned by qualified personnel in the most hazardous and heavily populated areas of our towns before the next monsoons.

j) Reducing landslide hazards in the vicinity of new road construction sites.

Newly constructed roads were observed as the source of many fresh landslides as such bringing new roads plans under the purview of environment impact assessment (EIA) maybe considered.

k) Necessity of Awareness Programs

Landslides in the hills are largely caused by man interacting with nature. One of the key long term solutions will be raising public awareness regarding causes of landslides, necessity of afforestation and so on. The Govt together with NGOs should play a leading role in this field.

In this regard the nearest GSI office (at Gangtok) maybe tasked with the responsibility of holding landslide workshops in Darjeeling district at frequent intervals.

l) Transparency in fund utilization

Preventive work against landslides will undoubtedly involve huge expenditure. Corruption if unchecked will lead to poor quality of work which in turn will result in loss of life and property. It is therefore necessary to have stringent checks in place to minimize corruption and to ensure funds are utilized correctly, since our very survival in the hills will depend on these measures being taken.
In this regard, the administration would inspire public confidence if regular press releases were given as regards the progress of preventive measures being taken or completed.

Inclusion of prominent citizens / NGOs or representative from social organizations from the planning to execution stage of preventive measures being taken would also go a long way to increasing transparency as regards proper fund utilization.

m) NGO participation in Landslide Surveys

Landslides often take place in remote areas which may not come to the notice of the Government machinery. In order to get a more accurate assessment of the situation, local people/ NGOs who are familiar with the terrain or region must be co-opted with teams carrying landslide surveys.

n) Checking the inventory of Relief Materials supplied to make it specific to Landslides in Mountainous Terrain.

Relief material doled out during the landslides of Sep2007 were inadequate and in some cases inappropriate. Whereas strict measures would be required to ensure that relief reached deserving, affected people, the inventory of relief materials needs to be checked to ensure that warm clothing (instead of clothes meant for flood affected areas in the plains) and rations (to last at least a week) are included along with other relief material such as plastic sheets/tarpaulin.

o) Periodic check of Efficacy of Preventive/Relief measures at the Sub-Division Level

If not already being done, SDOs maybe directed to check the efficacy of preventive and relief measures periodically all through the year. This, in the pre monsoons could amount to checking the progress of cleaning, clearing blockages in the drainage system, taking stock of relief materials etc and in the post monsoon period it could assess the efficacy/ lacunae of the preventive/relief measures taken with a view to improve on these. Detail checklists maybe drawn up and municipal authorities, NGOs and social organizations may be included in the meetings.

praful rao

Monday, December 10, 2007

An update on the GSI visit

2 scientists/geologists from the Geological Survey of India have been in Kalimpong for 10 days now, surveying the landslide situation in and around Kalimpong and I am glad to tell u that we have developed a good rapport with them.
We accompanied them on two of their visits showing them some slides which are documented here at "savethehills", then interacted with them on numerous other occasions. I am confident that Kalimpong and its surroundings has come under the scanner by appropriately qualified people as far as landslides are concerned.
We do not know what they will report but what we do know now is that we can BUY their report from GSI, Eastern Region, Kolkatta. We shall certainly do that and insist that these reports be read and recommendations followed instead of being buried in dust in some Govt office.

Again I do not know whether a similar exercise could be carried out in other parts of the district. I certainly feel that local people and NGOs should be more proactive and get involved in meeting and guiding landslides survey teams to affected areas since we know best where the landslides are. The team also saves a lot of time scouting around for slides which took place 4 months back! Also this is our home and if we aren't interested in doing anything about it, who else would be bothered?
I have certainly recommended this in a FAX (which i know, i know is woefully delayed) to the Chief Minister, West Bengal which I shall send today.

praful rao

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Good news for Kalimpong

On 08Dec2007 at 1100hrs a peace march was organized to protest against the recent 5 day strikes and the way rival political party loyalists openly displayed lethal weapons on the streets of Kalimpong for days, while the administration and law enforcement just stood by watched.
The organizers were senior citizens with no political affiliation who had formed a loose group called the CITIZEN'S RIGHT FORUM. About 10-15000 people from all walks of life took to the streets in support of this issue and the requirement of having peace in the hills as a forerunner to any progress here.
The event received wide press coverage.
I, personally am glad that the ordinary citizen who has for years cowered in terror in some corner is finally coming out and speaking.

If you wonder what all this has to do with landslides, well it is just this - finally the ordinary citizen has to assert him/herself to ask for whatever is his or her right..
like landslide prevention which neither the Govt nor political parties are too bothered about.

praful rao

Friday, December 7, 2007

First Landslide Awareness Program in Kalimpong - 06Dec2007

The first landslide awareness program was held at Tapoban, Upper Cart Road, Kalimpong on 06Dec2007 at 1700hrs - thanks to the Rotary Club of Kalimpong.

The program was anchored by Rtn Bharat Mani Pradhan and attended by 40 odd persons including two geologists from Geological Survey of India and a few non Rotary club members.

Wg Cdr Praful Rao (retd) began the program with a 40 mins power point presentation on the landslide situation in Kalimpong due to the Sep2007 rains. This included a slide show of the various landslides which had taken place in the vicinity of Kalimpong and also in Darjeeling.

There after, there was a an interactive session for approximately one hour 20mins where persons in the audience asked the GSI scientists questions about landslides and related issues.

This was followed by brief insight by Mr UM Pradhan, town planner and engineer, into the necessity of setting up satellite towns in the district in order to relieve population pressure in the main towns of Darjeeling, Kalimpong , Kurseong and Mirik.

The meeting ended at 1900hrs.

praful rao

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

3 months later - Despair and a glimmer of hope...

Three months after Sep2007 rains, as we toured some affected areas with a specialist team we saw despair and hopefully a glimmer of hope :-

Slide 1: Anil Shankhar in front of his new house. Nothing has changed here since Sept and I had no answer to Mr Shankhar's question "what should I do now?"

Slide 2: It is hard to imagine that Tirtirey jhora (rivulet) which is now a dry stream is the cause of all the devastation around Anil Shankhar's village. An entire hillside with many homes and residences is sliding down because of the jhora's rampage in the monsoons.
On 03Dec2007, there was no repair ("training") work being done on the jhora and there are 5 months for the next monsoons.

Slide 3: Some jhora training work has started in 14the mile though and this jhora is the cause of an entire hillock at Sangsay Phatak sliding down.

Slide 4: Jhora training work at a sinking area (Ghatey Khola) at 11th mile, Kalimpong

Whereas it is good that some preventive work has started, let us not be naive and think decades of neglect can reversed in the spate of a few months or years.
Right now the funds being allocated are in penny packets and will not even touch the tip of the iceberg even if there were no corruption.
But all of us know there is corruption - BIG, BIG CORRUPTION...
so just what awaits us in 2008?

praful rao

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Fed up with text? Here are some graphics...

Harvesting Rocks in Dec2007
(Kafley Gaon, Lower Ecchay Bustee, Kalimpong )

Kafley Gaon, Lower Ecchay, Kalimpong has some of the most fertile farmlands in Kalimpong on 01Dec2007 it was the picture of rural bliss -terraced fields bathed in warm, balmy sunshine.

Approx four months back, however things were more ugly.
In a classic case of landslides caused by man interacting/ interfering with nature, farmers living directly above the area shown diverted a huge amount of the overflowing rainwater towards this piece of land – this was done not out of any malice but of sheer necessity since there are no drains in the area to carry away the excess water.

As a result ,today, a significant part of Krishna Adhikari’s farmland is a mass of rocks.

We do not have any data on how much land has been lost by farmers this year but what is known is like Krishna Adhikari, most have yet to receive any compensation what so ever for their loss.

praful rao

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The answers (refers to the questions in the last post)

Lok Sabha

Geological Survey of India (GSI) is engaged in study of landslides and is carrying out three types of landslide investigations namely landslide hazard zonation (LHZ) on different scales, landslide inventory and site-specific study of landslide. LHZ is done following Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS) or modified BIS guidelines. Different type of investigation done by GSI is given below, state-wise:

LHZ on Macro Scale (1:50,000/25,000) : Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Sikkim, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya.

LHZ on Meso scale (1:10,000/5,000) : West Bengal, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir and Mizoram.

Landslide Inventory : Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Pondicherry and Tripura.

Site specific studies on landslide in all the states are undertaken as and when requested by the State Governments and Road Maintaining Authoriteis.

Studies for snow avalanches for few site specific areas based on the request from the local authorities has been carried out by GSI. As per Ministry of Defence, Snow Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) identifies avalanche prone areas and registers such sites.

The entire Himalayan mountainous region, Northeastern part of India, Western Ghats and Nilgiri Hills are the most landslide prone areas of the country. The landslide affected states are Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Sikkim, Goa, Karnataka, Mizoram, Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Meghalaya and Pondicherry.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has been constituted by the Government of India in 2005 to address the issue of mitigation of all types of natural disasters. GSI, declared as the Nodal Agency by the Government of India for any types of landslide study of the country, has already undertaken awareness generation programme not only for the State Government officials engaged in landslide hazard mitigation tasks but also for the affected communities living in the landslide prone hilly terrains.

Avalanche forecast bulletins for Area of Responsibility (AOR) are issued 36 hrs advance throughout the winter season by SASE/Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) assisted by Indian Meteorological Department. Remote Sensing Technology is being operationalised in view of large areas to be covered in AOR.

This information was given by Dr. T.Subbarami Reddy Minister of State for Mines in a written reply in the Lok Sabha today.



Contributed by

Vivek Chhetri


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Questions being asked in the Parliament on 28Nov2007

Placed below are excerpts from Question Hour in our Parliament today (Source :-

Study on Landslides and Avalanches


Will the Minister of MINES be pleased to state:

(a) whether the Geological Survey of India (GSI) has carried out any study with regard to landslides, snow avalanches, etc. in the country;

(b) if so, the details thereof, State-wise;

(c) the details of methodology used in carrying out the survey;

(d) whether the GSI has identified the most landslide, snow avalanche-prone areas in the country;

(e) if so, the details thereof, State-wise; and

(f) the steps taken/proposed to be taken by the Government to prevent occurrence of such incidents and reduce the damage to life and property?


Landslides/Snow Avalanches in the Country


Will the Minister of HOME AFFAIRS be pleased to state:

(a) whether the Government has made any study regarding natural calamities like landslides/snow avalanches in the States of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal as frequent blockage of National Highway creates problems in winter due to landslides/snow avalanches;

(b) if so, the details thereof;

(c) if not, the reasons therefor; and

(d) the steps taken by the Government in this regard?


Article contribution

Yusuf Simick


Comment by Praful Rao:-

It seems strange that some of the questions (highlighted in RED) are the very same ones that we are asking. The answers will be interesting.

An input from an engineer..

Niraj Lama has indeed raised some pertinent points, although I do not fully agree to some of his recommended solutions!

1.Re: Landslide-Zone Mapping. This was taken up by Darjeeling DM’s Office (perhaps during Mr. Verma’s time, who was also the Chief Principal Secretary of DGHC later on). I had attended one of their meetings 8-10 years ago, and there was a lady heading the Netaji Institute of Asian Studies then. I don’t know if causes of landslides in our hills had been pinpointed and specific recommendations arrived at on a micro level. However it will certainly be worthwhile to try and get hold of the relevant maps and reports either from the DM’s Office ( the Head Assistant there should know about this) or from Netaji Institute of Asian Studies, Kolkata itself. Lets see if this can serve as a Base of sorts.

2.Re: Need for Relocation of people from identified vulnerable areas and Holistic Approach to Urban and Rural Development . This is a tough one! According to O’Malley’s Darjeeling District Gazetteer ,”when the British first acquired the hill territory in 1835, it was almost entirely under forest, and what small population it had, had been driven out by the oppression of the petty ruler whom they replaced. It was, in fact, estimated that the whole of this tract, comprising 138 square miles, contained only 100 souls.” He then goes on to say that due to Dr. Campbell’s (the first Superintendent) tireless effort to render Darjeeling the commercial centre of the hills, the population rapidly grew to 10,000 in 1850, 94,712 in 1871, 1,55,179 in 1881 and 2,23,314 in 1891, showing a staggering 43.4% during the decade 1981-91! According to Niraj, during the last decade if we are continuing to maintain an astounding growth rate of 40% in the Darjeeling town alone (Municipal Area?), then God help us! There is a blessing given by local Dewsey groups during Dewali which translates into “may your progeny increase and fill the hills” – are we taking this blessing too seriously? Steps must be taken to change such preposterous blessings to suit the times! I read somewhere that Darjeeling Town has the dubious distinction of having the highest population density in the world! If this is true, then it is high time that we sit up and take positive action. The town, which has an area of only 4.1 square miles, is surrounded by tea gardens, forest areas and steep unstable hills. Since it cannot expand outwards, there is no other option but to rise upwards, which explains the mushrooming of high-rise 5-8 storied concrete buildings, contravening Municipal Rules. We will have to take a holistic approach and find enough areas in the Khasmahals, Forests, defunct Tea Gardens and Wastelands suitable for setting up planned compact Satellite Townships to accommodate future urban growth and not forgetting balanced Regional Development to reduce unnecessary migration from our villages to the urban centres. IN ADDITION, THE GOVERNMENT OF WEST BENGAL CAN EXHIBIT ITS GENUINE INTEREST IN THE DARJEELING HILLS BY RECOMMENDING ONE OF THE MUNICIPALITIES FOR URBAN DEVELOPMENT AND REFORMS UNDER JAWAHARLAL NEHRU NATIONAL URBAN RENEWAL MISSION (JNNURM) IMMEDIATELY! I FAIL TO UNDERSTAND WHY DARJEELING HILL AREAS ARE NEGLECTED AND IGNORED WHEN IT COMES TO DEVELOPMENT MATTERS!!

3.Re: Maximim permissible height of buildings . An Expert Committee had been formed for framing Bye-laws for Municipalities coming under Government of West Bengal, of which I was also a Member along with (Late) Shasheesh Prasad and Mr. Tshering, Technical Adviser DGHC to represent the hills. It is true that we had fixed up 11.5 meters as the maximum permissible height of buildings in the hills of Darjeeling. This works out to37’9” – people still think in ‘feet’ and not in ‘meters’. An average floor height is 9’6”, so four stories would mean 38’0”- add to this 2’0’plinth height and the total height of the building will come to 40’0”. In view of the extreme scarcity of land in the hills, and for all practical purposes, a would-be house builder will undoubtedly go in for a 4-storied building and pay a fine for the excess height or bribe his way through. Thus 11.5m. or 37’9” is neither here nor there. Under the circumstances, I would suggest a realistic maximum height of 12.5m. (i.e. 41’0”) which would accommodate 4-stories plus plinth height, as opposed to 13.5m.(i.e. 44’3”) as desired by hill municipalities (which will actually extend to 5-stories)! Does that earn me the title of ‘Mentally Retarded’?

4.Re: Drainage System .The ‘Jhoras’ or natural hill streams form the backbone of our drainage system, but they are a neglected lot. In fact, it has been found that a majority of landslides during 2007 have been caused by ‘Jhora Erosion’. This is a massive problem – but where do we begin?. Since landslide protection has been the main plank for ‘save the hills’, I think we should start off by making a detailed inventory (supported by Mapping), of all the ‘jhoras’ within Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Kurseong Municipalities. It can be noticed that under natural conditions, rainwater partly infiltrates into the soil and is partly transported to the ‘jhoras’ as runoff. But in densely built-up areas within municipalities the infiltration part is reduced to a minimum, as entire lands are covered by buildings, roads, footpaths and cement plastered courtyards. As a result of this, additional runoff is created, which finally finds its way to the jhoras. This heavy inflow of runoff water often far exceeds the natural capacity of the jhoras, causing toe-erosion and landslides – small slips in the beginning, culminating in entire hill- slopes sliding down into the eroded jhoras with every passing monsoon. Careful insight into photographs in ‘savethehills’ website vividly show how dangerously close we all are in the hills of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong subdivisions to total disaster by landslides! The three hill municipalities of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong already have good manpower, databank, mapping and organizational structure. They can easily arrange adequate finances for the Mapping and Inventory Survey Works proposed above. We in savethehills, assisted by our supporting ‘Public Participation Units’, can ably assist them to complete the Survey and Mapping work done within the next 3 months, after which a Priliminary Action Plan can be prepared to face the next monsoon. This can be modified and fine-tuned for achieving better results in the coming years. Something is better than nothing, I presume!


Monday, November 26, 2007

Niraj's Notions : Landslide Hazard Darjeeling hills

I had requested all concerned people to send points/ suggestions/ demands which "savethehills" could collate, compile and put up to the Chief Minister (CM) on his visit to Darjeeling last week.
As we all know, the visit did not take place, nevertheless we aim to complete the process and FAX the document to the CM.
Mr Niraj Lama mailed me the article below, in response to the request.
To many, Niraj needs no introduction.
To those who don't know him he was a fiery, many a time acerbic and brilliant young journalist who worked for the Statesman for years. After quitting the Statesman some years ago, he now freelances.
I certainly request for more points from everyone concerned so that we can send an exhaustive list of suggestions/demands to the CM as regards landslide hazard in Darjeeling District within this week.
(With permit from the author, I have had to edit this article at places.)

praful rao

1) The government had spent a lot of money several years ago engaging Netaji Insitute of Asian Studies to come up with landslide-zone mapping. Several expensive-looking colourful templates used to be stuck up in the office of one deputy magistrate for a long time (they could still be on the wall). The logical follow-up should have been relocation of people from such zones, while at the same time preventing any new settlements to come up.
Relocation is not a politically-comfortable idea, but given the nature of our geography it has to be looked into. WE NEED RELOCATION OF PEOPLE FROM IDENTIFIED VULNERABLE AREAS.
No ration cards for those staying in declared dangerous areas.

2) Our population growth has been exponential. The growth in Darjeeling town was astounding 40% plus between the Census of 1990 and 2001; the rural scenario cannot be too different. Even to the eyes, the cover of human habitations is spreading rapidly on the erstwhile undisturbed hills sides. POPULATION GROWTH CONTROL NEEDS TO BE PRIORITIZED. Health and Family Welfare department along with NGOs should launch a 20-year campaign, starting with the new year.
Any man bearing more than two children must go and work in the sewage reconstruction in Baghdad.

3)The maximum permissible height for construction should be made 11. 5 m (proposed by the state government) as opposed to 13.5 m (as desired by the hill municipalities). Building laws should be strictly implemented. This is a fit case for PIL, because tall buildings are public hazards. Also people building, and officially approving, tall buildings in the hills are mentally retarded and liable to commit other public damages.

4)Drainage system including jhoras and roadside drains needs to be cleaned and well maintained.

5) Modern waste-disposal system should be installed in towns and large settlements.

6) Load on trucks should be strictly regulated for which there are already laws.

7)Some forest land and tea land needs to be resumed to accommodate the expansion of the urban areas in the hills (the taking of Chandmuni tea estate for Siliguri's expansion is a precedent).

8) Massive afforestation in the denuded watercatchment areas.

9) Replace 40 per cent of the tea gardens and cinchona with commercial private timber plantations.

8)Finally, we should come up with a Vision Statement. We could call it Darjeeling Hills 2030. It is difficult to move ahead effectively if we don't have concrete goals, and these goals should be holistic. Approaching a problem from a single perspective does not serve the purpose of development. DGHC, state government, Centre, expert bodies and local NGOs to work on this one.

Niraj Lama

Friday, November 23, 2007

A warning too costly to be ignored...

Placed below is a translation of an article which appeared in "BARTAMAN", a Bengali daily (Kolkatta edition) on Sat - 17Nov2007.
(The English may appear incorrect at places but this is only to keep the translation as accurate as possible)


A joint research team from India and Poland has recommended the lessening of population from Darjeeling and Gangtok. They suggested the development of new townships to decrease population pressure in these two towns. They also suggested the lessening of load on the Coronation bridge which was built during the British period. They have suggested to the W. Bengal and Sikkim state govts, the immediate construction of alternate routes to the existing Coronation bridge.

The combined Polish / Indian team has been studying this area for the last 20yrs. The coordinator of the Indian team Mr Subir Sarkar, geologist from North Bengal University said the entire report would be sent to the Centre and to W.Bengal Govt, thru North Bengal University.

The team had carried out their research work in Gangtok, Kurseong, Kalimpong, Malbazar, Oodlabari and in the landslide prone areas around Bagrakote.

Due to rampant urbanization the matter had become extremely serious and could no longer be ignored. Mr Subir said that in the next five years portions of road between Siliguri and Darjeeling, Teesta Bazar, Sevoke, Rambi and road from Lava to Damdim is in danger of being fully damaged. The pressure of increased population, unscientific methods of building construction and unplanned drainage system are causing the frequent landslides said Mr Subir.

Mr Subir said that since there is no free land in Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong, hence places like Sonada, Tiger Hill, and Ghoom where there is presently less pressure on land should be developed as alternative townships. Alternative townships to Gangtok is also necessary.

The team said that in these landslide prone areas, people should use scientific methods of construction. As an example he pointed out that in 1982, in the Darjeeling’s hill area of Chanmari, 2 people died due to landslides but presently their family members had reconstructed their houses in the same spot. In 1993 due to another landslide a person was killed in the same spot. The house was reconstructed at the same place and in 2002 a landslide took another life in the same family. The house has been rebuilt and the family is now still living in the same area.

Due to heavy traffic movement on the Coronation bridge its condition is extremely dangerous. To save the bridge the team suggested alternate routes like Damdim - Lava, Kalimpong - Rhenock, Bagrakote – Lolaygaon be improved and used.

Mr Subir cautioned that there would be a dreadful calamity in the hills if the pressure on the land is not addressed immediately.

praful rao

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Protest rally demanding preventive action against landslides by “savethehills” :20Nov2007 (1230hrs)

Please refer the earlier blog (1. Report on Meeting held at Trizum Hall on 17Nov2007 para b)

As per the decision in the above meeting, a fairly large group of affected/concerned people gathered at the Town Hall premises on 20Nov2007. (Slide 1).

After getting requisite permit from the concerned authorities the rally started from the Town Hall to the Damber Chowk, into the the motor stand and back. (Slides 2,3,4,5). The rally went to meet the DM at the SDO’s office (Slide 6).

All thru the rally, including at the SDO’s office, slogans were chanted that mere post disaster “relief” measures not enough and that preventive actions was required, the government was asked to wake up to this fact.

A few members of the group met the SDO, Mr PT Sherpa (WBCS) who said the DM had not come to Kalimpong because he was unwell. A letter asking the DM to arrange a meeting with the Chief Minister (when he visited Darjeeling) was handed over to him (which was faxed to the DM immediately).

A short meeting was held with the SDO where it was requested that:-

a) The SDO arrange a meeting with all departments (such as soil conservation, irrigation social forestry and so on) involved in disaster prevention where representative of savethehills would also attend.

b) Representative of “savethehills” be allowed to meet Geological Survey of India team which was scheduled to visit Kalimpong in Dec2007.

c) The SDO was also asked to intervene directly to get “savethehills” an appointment with the CM.

Later, a meeting was held at the Town Hall where the people who took part in the rally were requested to keep in touch with the organizers so that as and when the permission to meet the CM was granted, at least 10-15 vehicles full of affected people would go to Darjeeling to demonstrate the urgency and concern to the Chief Minister.

praful rao

Monday, November 19, 2007


1. Report on Meeting held at Trizum Hall on 17Nov2007

The meeting commenced at 1100hrs with approx 100 persons attending from various organizations. The meeting was organized by Himalayan Farmer’s Front under the “savethehills” banner.


a) It was decided that representatives from “savethehills” would meet the Chief Minister (CM) Mr Buddhadev Bhattacharya when he came to Darjeeling on the 23Nov2007.

In order to do this, 5-8 persons from the gathering met theSDO Mr PT Sherpa at his residence immediately after the meeting and submitted a written request to arrange a meeting with the CM in Darjeeling.

The SDO however said that the District Magistrate (DM) was visiting Kalimpong on 20Nov2007 and he suggested that “savethehills” meet the DM directly and request him to do the needful.

b) It was decided that while a selected few from “savethehills” would meet the DM on 20Nov2007- clubs, NGOs and village organizations would be requested to send representatives to a selected venue (the Townhall, Kalimpong) at 1200hrs after which the group would proceed to the SDO’s office as a show of solidarity and urgency.

c) It was also decided to hold a seminar in Kalimpong on the landslide situation at a later date involving all NGOs, Govt depts and concerned citizens.

A press brief was given on the above.

2) Photo Exhibition

We are trying to work on a photo exhibition in Darjeeling and Kalimpong around the 10Dec2007 on the recent landslides. The idea was earlier mooted by my young firend Roshan Rai of Anugyalay and I think it would be a good way of spreading awareness about the gravity of the landslide situation amongst the public since most are not even aware of the scale of the near disaster in Sep2007.

I wonder whether anyone in Kurseong/ Mirik would be interested?

praful rao

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Excerpt fromTelegraph (17Nov2007)

Having posted the earlier blog (A narrow escape..) I was browsing thru when I came across this article which coincidentally talks about same topic - category IV cyclone Sidr..
Here it is:-

How Bengal escaped Sidr
- Devastation in Bangladesh, Met officials justify alarm

New Delhi, Nov. 16: Scientists today attributed the shift of Cyclone Sidr towards Bangladesh to factors long known to influence cyclone paths, but asserted that its scale and severity justified the warnings issued to Bengal.

India Meteorological Department officials said they had anticipated an eastward shift which began about three hours before the cyclone hit Bangladesh about 80km east of the initially predicted landfall zone.

The 250kmph winds killed around 600 people in Bangladesh, left thousands injured or missing, flattened houses and unleashed a 15-foot tidal surge that destroyed three coastal towns and forced the evacuation of 32 lakh people. Unofficial reports put the toll above 1,000.

Three factors could have contributed to the shift — Earth’s rotation, the interaction of the cyclone’s outermost winds with land just as they began to graze the coastline and high-altitude winds called the westerlies.

“A (cyclonic) system in the northern hemisphere’s atmosphere is deflected slightly towards the east because of Earth’s rotation,” said H.R. Hathwar, additional director-general of the IMD. “As it neared the coast, the balance of the cyclonic system could have been disturbed and caused the winds to change direction a bit.”

Scientists are yet to fathom the mechanics of these land-wind interactions, but the tendency of cyclones in the northern Bay of Bengal to veer towards Bangladesh indicates that the effects are consistent over time.

The cyclone may also have come under the influence of long-range winds blowing from west to east called the westerlies.

Yesterday, the IMD had initially predicted landfall (the cyclone hitting land) at 89°E longitude on the Bengal-Bangladesh border. But it struck the coast at 89.8°E, about 80km eastwards.

This is within the acceptable error margin when dealing with an event on the scale of a cyclone, a scientist said.

“A cyclone has dimensions of 300km to 500km (Sidr had a 450km diameter), and an 80km shift would still mean severe winds on either side of the border,” said Mrutyunjaya Mahapatra, director, cyclone warning division, IMD.

Scientists used a synthesis of satellite imagery, ground data and a weather radar in Calcutta to track the cyclone and wind speeds. Despite the eastward shift, parts of Bengal experienced 90kmph winds that damaged over 1,000 thatched houses in North and South 24-Parganas.

Predictions that Bengal would be hit had led many tourists to cancel or truncate seaside trips and software companies to arrange guesthouse rooms for staff. Some people suggested the Met office should have issued hourly bulletins instead of a sweeping cyclone forecast.

“The warning was justified because such high-speed winds had the potential to cause extensive damage,” Hathwar said. “In such situations… it’s better to be overcautious.”

The weather radar is mainly used for real-time wind tracking and “nowcasting” — forecasting for the next two to three hours. But a Met warning issued two-three hours before a cyclone strikes would be too late for evacuation or effective public advisories.


A narrow escape..

On 15Nov2007, supercyclone Sidr slammed into Bangladesh at around 6.30pm local time. Within hours it left approx 250 people dead despite large scale evacuation by the Bangladeshi authorities.
It was just our good luck (and bad luck for those in the east of the country) that after striking Bangladesh the cyclone veered off to the east rather than continue on its earlier northerly course.
Being situated in a part of the country which is susceptible to such hazards it is all the more imperative for us to bolster our defenses and ratchet up our preventive measures against landslides.

(satellite images are from

praful rao

Friday, November 16, 2007

New posts from Darjeeling

Posted from

thanx to Mr Swaroop Charmling and "Cold Mountain"