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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Shiv Thapa receiving IISS Award....Chidambaram at Gangtok....Quake damages 2 Teesta project sites...16 dead...Himalayan mountains lose peace after the devastating earthquake...Whose faultline is it?

Shiv Thapa receiving IISS Award
KalimNews: Shiva Thapa junior Boxer champion of Assam will be awarded for his breakthrough performance of the Year.  This award includes a cash prize of Rs 50, 000   with a trophy. The award will be presented during a ceremony organised by 2nd India International Sports Summit  ( IISS Sporting Spirit Awards ) on 24th Sept and  at Mumbai in Hotel Trident at Nariman Point. Thapa is invited as a Special guest for the announcement of WBS India Team Brand name launch.
Chidambaram at Gangtok
KalimNews: Union home minister P.Chidambaram, arrived at Gangtok and visited Sir Tashi Namgyal Memorial hospital at Gangtok and met the injured victims of the earthquake of Sunday.
Quake damages 2 Teesta project sites

Workers of the Teesta hydro power project on Wednesday abandon the dam site after 16 of their colleagues died in the earthquake that hit the north east on Sunday. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar
The Hindu
Workers of the Teesta hydro power project on Wednesday abandon the dam site after 16 of their colleagues died in the earthquake that hit the north east on Sunday. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar
SUSHANTA TALUKDAR, TH: 16 people killed, several injured; headrace tunnel, dam and tunnels are intact
Sunday's earthquake, which left a trail of destruction in Sikkim, has caused massive damage to some structures at two of the five project sites of the 1,200-megawatt hydro-power project in the upper reaches of the Teesta river. It claimed the lives of 16 workers and officials and caused injuries to several workers.
But Teesta Urja Limited, the company that is building the Rs.10,000-crore project, said no damage was done to any of the tunnels or the dam. Senior Deputy General Manager Mukul Jain told The Hindu that landslips triggered by the 6.8-magnitude earthquake caused massive damage to office buildings, workers' colonies, tents and approach roads at the two sites. However, the headrace tunnel bringing water from the dam site to the powerhouse, the dam and the tunnels were intact.
Mr. Jain said a number of workers who were inside the tunnel were safe, and those who died or were injured were working outside the tunnels.
The project was nearing completion, and most of the construction work was in the final stages, he said.
However, extensive damage at the two sites, coupled with the loss of lives, has triggered panic among workers, who fled the project sites. About 200 workers have taken shelter in a relief camp at the Singik project site, 7 km from here
On Wednesday, there was a mass exodus of workers employed by the company as well as contractual labourers engaged by sub-contractors. Hundreds trekked hilly tracks and walked over the debris of blocked roads for more than three hours from different project sites before arriving at Mangan and boarding buses that would take them to their homes in West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and several other States.
Mr. Jain said the right bank access road along the project site was damaged in some locations, and the project tunnel was being used for transporting men and material. All casualties, injured and missing employees were accounted for.
Children orphaned
Anand Biswakarma, 25, was shocked to receive the bodies of his elder brother Bishnu Lama and sister-in-law Sita, which started decaying in the Mangan district hospital on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, he was waiting for the helicopter of Teest Urja Limited, of which Bishnu was an employee, to airlift the coffins.
Anand had other worries than taking back the coffins of his brother and sister-in-law. Back home at Joygaon in West Bengal's Jalpaiguri district, he would have to face the Lama couple's six-year-old daughter Kripti and three-year- old son Prajal, now left orphaned by the earthquake. The Lama couple were crushed to death under the rubble of the landslips triggered by the earthquake when Bishnu was at the wheels of a mini-bus. His wife was seated behind; several workers of the company were also on the bus, returning to their bases after taking part in the Biswakarma puja at one of the project sites of the company.
Himalayan mountains lose peace after the devastating earthquake

Army personnel talking to Suman, a contractor in the Teesta Urja project, after crossing the Manul village on Wednesday to reach the remote villages of North Sikkim. Suman and his wife Sanju braved the forest path to reach Manul with their child. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury
The Hindu
Army personnel talking to Suman, a contractor in the Teesta Urja project, after crossing the Manul village on Wednesday to reach the remote villages of North Sikkim. Suman and his wife Sanju braved the forest path to reach Manul with their child. Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury
ARUNANGSU ROY CHOWDHURY, TH:It was 7.30 a.m. The Army contingent was ready at Manul hamlet, just 7 km from Mangan, district headquarters of the North Sikkim district in Sikkim. The contingent was to march forward to reach the remotest of villages in the district to rescue the earthquake victims
Heavy landslides caused by last Sunday's massive earthquake have disconnected those villages. Very few residents of the villages endured the arduous trek to Manul as they had faced devastation and distress back home.
Some of them were workers of the Teesta Urja project and they appeared to be traumatised by the experience. According to them, the situation at the project tunnel could be serious: “We do not know how many workers have been trapped inside.”
Kamal and Romu, residents of Rammam village, braved the forest path and climbed up to Manul with their one-year-old baby.
The Army unit started from Manul to reach Rammam. I accompanied the team along the tough hilly terrain to witness the rescue operations in the remotest areas. The team had to go 1,500 ft. downhill from Manul to reach the Teesta river. Then it had to climb up around 1,500 ft. through dense forests after crossing the river.
The team was taking down every detail of the route from the local residents. A helicopter was hovering above – with Army personnel trying their best to rescue people from the villages of Chungthang, Shipgyre and Saffo. Given the extent of damage and its remoteness, the village of Rammam, however, remained out of bounds even to the helicopter.
The Army personnel came by a family who were climbing up with great difficulty with as few belongings as they could carry. Suman is a contractor working for the Teesta Urja project. Horrified at seeing death from such a close distance, he was at a loss for words to explain his experience and tightly held his baby boy Shreyan to his chest. Suman's wife Sanju's lips had turned pale with shock and exhaustion due to the steep climb to reach Manul in search of a new life.
A faint smile of joy appeared on baby Shreyan's face after receiving chocolates from the Army personnel – perhaps the first time since the tragedy struck.
The vertical downhill path led to a plateau where a group of people were resting. Amrit Thapa, an injured worker of the Teesta Urja project, was being carried to Manul by sherpas by fastening him on to a plastic chair.
The Army team marched forward to cross the turbulent Teesta. I met Dawa Doma, sarpanch of Rammam village, who was on her way to survey the village.
“Rammam has a population of 200 people whereas Saffu and Shipgyre have bigger populations of 400 people. Nature is cruel sometimes and none can go against her. We are trying hard to support the villagers. Teams of the armed forces and the National Disaster Response Force have reached the village and we hope the situation to improve soon,” she said.
North Sikkim is a place where the heaven touches the earth, the ambience creates a mystery, silence can be heard, vision tends to travel beyond the horizon, soul starts meditating unknowingly and the mind gets rejuvenated.
But all these things are absurd now. The fragile Himalayan terrain, which can put our minds at peace, is also capable of stealing the peace through sheer geographical change.
(The writer is a Special Photographer of Business Line)
Whose faultline is it?
Mahendra P Lama, HT,September 21, 2011:The death toll in the northern district of Sikkim, worst hit by Sunday's earthquake, is steadily rising. Against the backdrop of an incipient disaster management plan, the relief operation teams are again grappling with the situation. The question of connectivity, both physical and virtual, in the North-east have emerged as the core issue once again in the Centre-periphery disconnects and deprivations. The Indian Himalayan region stretches over 2,500 km, covering 12 states. Among these, the Sikkim and Darjeeling belts are ecologically in the most fragile zone and seismologically most vulnerable Zone 5. They are border states and subject to serious cross-border environmental damage.
Many reports have highlighted the criticality of connectivity for the development, sustenance and integration of the region. However, the blatant lack of political sagacity, absence of bureaucratic resurgence, and a feeble civil society have eaten the vitals of this region. These border states require state-of-the-art infrastructure in view of the development projects being undertaken to strengthen national security and match the changing dynamics on the other side of the border.
An accident or a small landslide can dislocate the entire national highway for hours, sometimes even days. Road dislocation happens routinely in national highways in the entire North-east. The quality of repairs is so poor that most repaired roads wear out within a fortnight. In August 2007, NH 31A remained closed for over 25 days. There was a hue and cry, but the situation didn't improve. The Border Road Organisation (BRO) is responsible for the building and maintenance of most of these roads. But it has blatantly ignored two vital rules of building roads in mountain areas: one, the road must have a drain on the side of the hill slope so that the water trickling down can be channelised; two, the sinking area requires careful maintenance, and rocks and mud that fill up the sinks must be removed.
There is no drain at all and, hence, rainwater comes down and flows downhill through the road. In the district of Ilam in neighbouring Nepal, there are examples of roads with huge drains.
Massive concrete-based development projects underway in the mountain areas pose a threat to the carrying capacity of these roads. For instance, more than 20 big and small hydel energy projects are underway in Sikkim alone. It's painful to see that sinking areas are 'managed' by filling them with truckloads of rocks and mud, which sink and disappear very soon. The concerned agencies must give a guarantee of at least five years, use techniques like covering toe-cutting edges of streams and rivers and put in place measures to punish defaulters. Since the projects are time-consuming and require high degrees of engineering wisdom and precision, BRO should rework its techniques and use new technology.
We also need to inquire into the role of private players in the aftermath of the earthquake. The 40-plus seconds of quake have exposed the weakening resilience and tenacity of the private players. To improve infrastructure in this region, the authorities must shun their policy of 'incrementalism' and switch to 'transformation'.
'Save the Hills', an NGO, recently released a report that states that Darjeeling hills get, on an average, about 388 mm of rains in September. In just six days, between September 14 and 19 (just before the quake) the region received 237 mm rain, or 61% of the total rainfall. There's a need to study such correlations to develop an early warning system like the one in Bangladesh for cyclones. It's essential as the nature, frequency, depth and dimensions of natural disasters are expected to undergo changes against the impending backdrop of climate change-triggered vulnerabilities.
The disaster management programme is too government-centric and there are few trained people. The basics of disaster management must be taught at village and community levels, and in educational institutions. It's because of this lack of institutional commitment in such critical areas of interventions that the North-east, where disasters occur everyday, depends on other states for relief operations.
(Mahendra P Lama is the founding vice-chancellor, Sikkim University, Gangtok)
(The views expressed by the author are personal)

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