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Plan land use to save hills, says expert

Kalimpong, June 18: A comprehensive profile of the Darjeeling hill topography using satellite imagery can be of great use for preparing land-use plans in the landslide-prone region.

Mamata Desai, professor, department of ecology, physical and human resources at the Netaji Institute for Asian Studies, Calcutta, who has carried out identification and mapping of the hazard-prone areas in the hills by using Geographical Information System and remote sensing techniques, put forward the suggestion here today. Desai was delivering a keynote address at a workshop on disaster management. She said population explosion and dwindling forest cover were among the main reasons for the increase in the frequency of landslides in the hills. The workshop was organised by Save The Hills, an NGO actively engaged in espousing the landslide issue.

Citing the example of the Darjeeling Municipality area, she said the percentage of forest cover had come down from 95 per cent in 1800 to 10 per cent in 2001. Conversely, the built-up area has gone from nil to 65 per cent. The population in the hills has increased by over four times between 1901 and 2001.

Under such circumstances, she said, land-use practices played the most important role in determining the stability factor of a region.

“The land-use planning should be undertaken after thorough analysis of the slope faces by calculating the humidity aspects. The humidity level is very high on the southern slope of the hills. The slope should not be used either for construction or agriculture activity,” she told about 100 people who had been invited.

One among the many ways of mitigating the landslide hazard, she said, was the preparation of data base by taking into consideration all relevant information like geology, geomorphology, history of landslide or any other type of disaster in the area concerned. “On the basis of the database, respective department or group can prepare sustainable planning to mitigate the disasters,” she said, while emphasising that landslides could not be completely stopped, but only mitigated.

Stating that proper management could reduce landslides by as much as 75per cent, she made a 10-point suggestion, including, among others, soil mapping, micro-level land-use mapping, checking deforestation, restriction on construction along side slopes of the roads, and ban on plastic bags.

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