In the last few days, torrential rains have triggered massive landslides throughout the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, causing huge damage in terms of loss of human lives and property. Nature is showing its justifiable anger in the Darjeeling Himalayas. Deforestation, unplanned construction of development projects like heavily overbuilt urban pockets, road building and dams, barrages and dykes act as root causes behind recent spate of disasters in the entire Himalayan belt. Himalaya Forest Villagers Organization and Uttar BangaVan-Jan Sromojibi Manch appeal to all citizens of the region and beyond to come out in large numbers in support of their demands :
- Stop irresponsible construction activity in Darjeeling Himalayas
- Stop Deforestation
- Stop the Killer Dams and the illegal Railway Project
- Respect Nature and People’s lives
23 October 2021
Nature is showing its justifiable anger in the Darjeeling Himalayas. For the last two decades and more, the hills have been irresponsibly and systematically ravaged, in the name of economic development, and to serve the interests of a section of corrupt political leaders, construction and power companies and contractors.
In the last few days, torrential rains have triggered massive landslides throughout the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, causing huge damage in terms of loss of human lives and property. Primary estimates reveal that several people have already lost their lives. No one knows how many more are still trapped in the debris. Everywhere, the hills are cracking up, leaving behind a trail of devastation and death, the likes of which the residents of our hills have not seen for a long time.
The rains are continuing, and in the coming days, there can only be a worsening of an already very bad situation. We will hopelessly watch as more hillsides come hurtling down, more river bridges are washed away, and people die and become homeless, trapped in mud and, down in the plains, swept away by floodwater.
Floods and landslides are familiar disasters in much of sub-Himalayan North Bengal, people living here battle these threats regularly. Yet what is happening now, at least the greater part of it, is not typical: deforestation, unplanned construction of development projects like heavily overbuilt urban pockets, road building and dams, barrages and dykes act as root causes behind recent spate of disasters in the entire Himalayan belt. More than these known causes, however, there are the extreme weather events, and their increased frequency. Due to global warming induced climate change, these extreme events, such as cloud bursts, heavy rainfall over a shorter period of time, as well as droughts can only increase in intensity in future.
Therefore, an already very bad situation can only worsen in the coming days. We will hopelessly watch as more hillsides come hurtling down, more river bridges are washed away, and people die and become homeless, trapped in mud and, down in the plains, swept away by floodwater.
This has been on the anvil for a long time: in vain, we and other groups in the region kept on shouting that the fragile geo-ecology of the Darjeeling Himalayas can not support big towns made of concrete, or big construction activities like large hydro electric projects and laying of railway tracks. Neither can the roads be widened ad infinitum, without damaging the hill slopes, their stability factor.
Four things are responsible for the present crisis.
- Unplanned and thoughtless construction in the hill slopes, without bothering to assess the slope stability factor, or whether the soil on which such constructions are coming up are at all capable of supporting concrete buildings.
- Rampant blasting and bench-cutting in the hills, for widening of existing roads, and for creating new ones, once again without safeguards, and prior geological and ecological assessment.
- Continued deforestation and planting up the slopes with trees which are veritable ecological garbage like Cryptomeria Japonica(Dhupi) and Tectona Grandis(Teak/Segun): the first started during the colonial days and continued to our present times, for tea plantation and creating new settlements, the second mainly in the post-colonial times. Both damaged the top-soil, laying the slopes bare or extremely vulnerable—in fact, Dhupi and Teak plantations increase the dangers of landslides.
Last but not the least, dams are coming up all along the Teesta valley, in North Bengal and adjoining Sikkim. When the first so-called low-dam power projects were planned on Teesta by NHPC, the environmental impact assessment reports prepared by the project developers showed that construction of dams in the region could only exacerbate the dangers of landslides in an already slide-prone zone, and storage of water for a long time win the river gorge will also seriously affect slope stability, leading to yet more landslides. Ever since the construction work started on the Teesta Low Dams around 2005, new landslides have been surfacing on both slopes of the Teesta gorge. The National Highway 10 connecting Sikkim with the rest of country is so badly affected, that a new road is being constructed by the Indian Army.
Paying no heed to the mounting evidence of ecological damage, and refusing to learn any lesson from the recent disasters in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, the state government of West Bengal, Gorkha Territorial Administration and NHPC are planning yet more dams on Teesta. In the already over-built and ecologically unsustainable towns in the regions, more multistoried buildings are coming up, without any regulatory check or control whatsoever. The Sevoke Rangpo railway project is being forcibly constructed, causing massive damage to the vulnerable hill slopes, triggering new landslides. New tourism projects are being encouraged without taking into account the crucial issue of ecology and environment,
And all these are happening in a geographical zone that is marked as seismic, and has experienced a number of earthquakes in recent months. As expected, the earthquakes have added to the problem, and probably increased the dangers of landslides manifold.
We demand that the government and the governmental agencies immediately organize adequate relief and compensation for the affected families. But mere relief is not enough: as long as the present development process will continue, as long as a handful of greedy politicians, contractors and companies decide the trajectory of that development, the destruction is not going to stop. And it is time this stops. We specifically demand:
- No new concrete constructions, particularly big buildings(two-storied and above) are not allowed to come up in ecologically and geologically unstable areas.
- No new dams in Darjeeling Himalayas—all omgoing activities for the proposed new dams on Teesta, Rammam, Rangit or other rivers of the region must immediately stop.
- All construction work on the railway project should be stopped immediately. An independent enquiry under judicial supervision into the environmental and social impact of the railway project as well as other big construction projects must be ordered.
- No widening of roads without adequate geological and ecological safeguards and prior assessments
- No new tourism zones that requires big construction or tampering of hill slopes in any way
- Ecologically acceptable afforestation drives throughout the Darjeeling Himalayas, comprising native species and through the Gram Sabhas. The Gram Sabhas in the 150 plus forest villages in the region know about how to raise and protect such plantations.
- Adequate geo-engineering measures to protect vulnerable hill slopes.
We appeal to all citizens of the region and beyond to come out in large numbers in support of our demands. We want the government to behave sensibly. The carnage must stop.
A Press Release by
Himalaya Forest Villagers Organization(HFVO, Lila Kumar Gurung (HFVO), 9434143092
Uttar BangaVan-Jan Sromojibi Manch(UBVJSM), Lal Singh Bhujel (UBVJSM), 9474627893
Cover Image : Portion of the Lava Road in Kalimpong washed away due to landslide triggered by very heavy rains.Twitter/@pooja_news