It is rather unfortunate that Mamata Banerjee’s visit to the devastated Darjeeing and Kalimpong districts, otherwise picturesque as autumn sets in, was overshadowed by her visits to certain other parts of West Bengal and Goa, where she is quite obviously trying to build up a base for the Trinamul Congress.
Pretty obvious must be the political connotation of her recent tours in the midst of a challenging time for the nothern parts of the state. Arguably more destructive than the rains have been the landslides in the hills, which have caused severe devastation. And central to the very recent natural calamity in the hilly areas of West Bengal must be the thoroughly unplanned development of the region, under the superintendence of a succession of hill administrations.
It reflects on the poor planning that residential areas have sprouted on or close to hill slopes, leading to the danger of frequent slipping and sliding. Landslides, it needs to be underlined, are an annual scourge in this swathe of West Bengal.
Of course, the respective municipalities of Darjeeling and Kalimpong (and to an extent Sikkim as well) are responsible for the decidedly unplanned development masquerading as municipal improvement. In the net, the land tends to slip during the rainy season, endangering the dwellings that have been constructed on or by the side of the slopes.
This is precisely what happened in Darjeeling and Kalimpong last week. Direly imperative, therefore, is a thorough survey of whether the hillsides of the two districts are suitable for residential complexes that have mushroomed without suitable municipal supervision. Both are vulnerable in the extreme during the monsoon when life is in danger even within the four walls of one’s home.
On closer reflection, the roof over one’s head means little or nothing given the annual risk of landslips, which are dangerously real. Imperative, therefore, is a holistic agenda for hill development. Regretfully, no such sincere effort has as yet been made, the obsessive concern of successive governments being the occasional violence over demands for statehood, the competitive demands of the various ethnic groups and the need to proceed while keeping hill administrations in good humour.
The plan for dwellings alongside the hillslopes must of necessity be vetted more carefully than has been manifest. Not to put too fine a point on it, all or nearly most of these houses rest on brittle foundations. Of course, locating alternate land for these dwellings in a hill area will pose a real estate problem and one that cannot easily be overcome. But with growing numbers of landslides, it is apparent that a solution will have to be found, and soon.