Darjeeling disaster waiting to happen, Mamata warns against rampant construction

A geophysicist has said the state government failed to implement norms prescribed by an expert committee for construction of buildings in the landslide-prone Darjeeling hills.

“Darjeeling’s mountain rock is quite fragile and its compactness is low. Besides, the area receives very high rainfall and its soil has extremely low water retention ability. Under these circumstances, the landslide was always waiting to happen, especially since appropriate building norms are hardly followed,” said Tapas Ghatak, a geophysicist and a former urban development official with the state government.


Ghatak said though a state-level expert committee, of which he was a member, had suggested in 2000 a number of norms for setting up houses in the hill town, they mostly remained on paper. “According to norms, there should not be any construction on land where the slope is more than 30 degrees, but one even finds massive buildings on 65 degree slopes.”

Building big houses on steep slopes adds to the pressure on the land and makes the area more prone to landslides.

“If one compares point to point, then Darjeeling is no less vulnerable than Uttarakhand. Darjeeling’s population density is greater, rainfall is higher and it has more rivers. The only saving grace is that Darjeeling is less vulnerable to earthquakes than Uttarakhand,” he explained.

Mamata Desai of the Netaji Subhas Research Institute in Calcutta, which does research work on the environment, said: “In the 1930s, the infrastructure of Darjeeling was created for an area of five square km and meant for around 20,000 to 30,000 people.”

According to her, though Darjeeling town has almost doubled and population increased six folds – actually much more if tourists are considered – there has been little augmentation of the infrastructure.

CM Mamata warns against rampant construction in Hills

After visiting the battered hills devastated by a series of landslides that killed more than 30 people,West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today warned the authorities against allowing rampant construction in the Hills.

The haphazard construction was clearly behind the landslides and the death of so many people, she said from Ground Zero.

Yesterday, CM Mamta Banerjee reached Tingling tea estate near Mirik, travelling for more than four and-a-half hours from Siliguri.

It was here that at least 21 people were buried alive by the landslips. Many are still missing.
The Chief Minister said the Geological Survey of India (GSI) would be requested to study the fragile hills and come up with suggestions.

Houses and tall buildings should not come up in an unscientific manner,’ she said, adding, ‘I have asked the authorities of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration to monitor each and every new construction.

Ms Banerjee maintained that Darjeeling’s wooden bungalows have given way to concrete high-rises and the results are there for all to see.”

The September 2011 earthquake in Sikkim and April 25, 2015 quake in Nepal that killed thousands should be an eye-opener,” she said.

The govt will take immediate steps to redress the situation, she added.

The state government would write to the Centre to send a GSI survey team to Darjeeling,†she said, demanding that the centre generously contribute towards rebuilding roads and homes.

She stressed for strict monitoring of all construction activities and said all building rules should be strictly followed. – UNI

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