Two houses in Tarzam tea estate where chunks of land had fallen off a slope. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling/Kalimpong, Sept. 14: Landslides triggered by heavy overnight rain in the hills caused extensive damage in six tea gardens but planters said the digging being done under the 100-day rural job scheme was making the soil come loose.
While work had to be stopped for the day in Takdah and Lopchu gardens because of the slides, Bannockburn, Phoobshering, Ging and Pussimbing reported loss of many tea bushes.
“Takdah received around 18 inches of rainfall in the last 24 hours. Around 160 labourer quarters have suffered damage. A 40ft road in Takdah has been washed away in four places and five culverts have been damaged in landslides. There is no approach road to the garden factory now,” said Sandeep Mukherjee, the principal advisor to the Darjeeling Tea Association.
Mukherjee said 13 labour quarters and two culverts had borne the brunt of the calamity at Lopchu.
“Tea bushes in an acre of land have been uprooted in Lopchu and road connectivity within the garden has become a major problem. Given the extent of the damage, no work could not carried out in Lopchu today.”
Road communication in the Ging tea garden, about 20km from Darjeeling, was hit after three culverts had been damaged. “In Phoobshering, 6,500 tea bushes have been uprooted by the landslides. There is no approach road to the factory now. Water has also seeped into the garden factory,” said Mukherjee.
The DTA has alleged that constructions under the 100-days’ work scheme aggravated the situation in the tea gardens. “The soil in the plantations loosens when boulders are removed to build pathways and roads during the monsoon. At some places, the main drain gets blocked while the sewerage is being improved, leading to spilling of water,” said Mukherjee.
The DTA has demanded that the government issue a directive to stop construction activities under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme during the rainy season.
“We are told that in many states like Harayana, 100 days’ work scheme is not executed during the agricultural season. We also demand that the scheme be implemented in the hill gardens bet- ween October and March,” he said.
Subin Pradhan, an architect said: “It is always advisable that earth-cutting is avoided during the monsoon as the loose soil could easily trigger a landslide.”
Saumitra Mohan, the principal secretary of the GTA as well as the Darjeeling district magistrate, however, said an order had already been issued to all subdivisional officers and block divisional officers, saying any project be cleared only after taking into account environmental concerns and technical viability. Elsewhere in the hills, four persons were injured in the landslides.
“A house collapsed at Singritam near Glenburn tea garden and one person was injured,” said a resident of Singritam, 25km from Darjeeling.
Minor landslides in over a dozen places in and around Darjeeling were also reported. The NH55was blocked at Dali early this morning because of a mudslide but the road was cleared by 8am. “The NH31A had also been blocked (at Tarkhola, Melli and Kalijhora) but all major roads have been cleared of debris with the help of agencies like the Border Roads Organisation and the public works department,” said DM Mohan.
In Kalimpong, the landslides occurred near Chota Bhalukhop-Leprosy Hospital, East Main Road, Mahakal Dara, between 3 Mile and 7th Mile and between Nimbong and Bakrakote. About 10 houses at Laminigaon in Chota Bhalukhop stand precariously below a hill where the earth has loosened and a landslide might occur anytime. Similarly, five houses along East Main Road could tumble down as there are high chances of a landslide getting bigger below.
Huge boulders rolling down the Deolo hill damaged the road at Mahakal Dara and a bridge near Tashiding in the 6 Mile area was destroyed in the landslides.