Right to reject
Emergency came as a boon to many corrupt political heavyweights of present era who became leaders by investing their youth for being in jails in those dark days of emergency. Such political heavyweights of the erstwhile Janata Party formed in post-emergency 1977-era subsequently split again and again, unfortunately have polluted Indian political system in a manner which made them grab enormous wealth by running post-emergency politics like family-business and behaving like modern monarchs in Indian democracy redefining democracy as a system for the politicians, by the politicians and of the politicians. Their dominating Indian system of governance has practically made lives of commoners even much more miserable than it was during emergency.

Prime Minister terming emergency as dark period should go for massive poll-reforms including 'Right-To-Reject' without any further dealy in name of never-to-be achieved political consensus so that talented and deserving ones rather than professional politicians may get a chance to lead world's largest democracy, eliminating unholy tradition of dynastic politics in India by making an upper age limit of say 65 or 70 years to remain in legislature.
Subhash Chandra Agrawal, Delhi

Nature’s Revenge
Nature is showing its justifiable anger in the Darjeeling Himalayas. For the last two decades and more, the hills have been irresponsibly and systematically ravaged, in the name of economic development, and to serve the interests of a section of corrupt political leaders, construction and power companies and contractors.

Recently torrential rains have triggered off massive landslides throughout the three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling, causing huge damage in terms of loss of human lives and property. Primary estimates reveal that 40 people have lost their lives. No one knows how many more are still trapped in the debris. Everywhere, the hills are cracking up, leaving behind a trail of devastation and death, the like of which the residents of our hills have not seen for a long time.

The rains are continuing and in the coming days, there can only be a worsening of an already very bad situation.

This has been on the anvil for a longtime : in vain, Himalaya Forest Villagers Organization (HFVO), Uttar Banga Van-Jan Sramajibi Manch (UBVJSM) and other groups in the region kept on shouting that the fragile geo-ecology of the Darjeeling Himalayas cannot support big towns made of concrete, or big construction activities like large hydro electric projects. Neither can the roads be widened ad infinitum, without damaging the hill slopes, their stability factor.

Four things are responsible for the present crisis.
1.    Unplanned and thoughtless construction in the hill slopes, without bothering to assess the slope stability factor, or whether the soil on which such constructions are coming up are at all capable of supporting concrete buildings.

2.   Rampant blasting and bench-cutting in the hills, for widening of existing roads, and for creating new ones, once again without safeguards, and prior geological and ecological assessment.

3.   Continued deforestation and planting up the slopes with trees which are veritable ecological garbage like Cryptomeria Japanica (Dhupi) and Tectona Grandis (Teak/Segun): the first started during the colonial days and continued to present times, for tea plantation and creating new settlements, the second mainly in the post-colonial times. Both damaged the top-soil, laying the slopes bare or extremely vulnerable—in fact, Dhupi and Teak plantations increase the dangers of landslide.

Last but not the least, dams are coming up all along the Teesta valley, in North Bengal and adjoining Sikkim. When the first so-called low-dam power projects were planned on Teesta by NHPC, the environmental impact assessment reports prepared by the project developers showed that construction of dams in the region could only exacerbate the dangers of landslides in an already slide-prone zone, and storage of water for a long time in the river gorge will also seriously affect slope stability, leading to yet more landslides. Ever since the construction work started on the Teesta Low Dams around 2005, new landslides are sufficing on both slopes of the Teesta. The National Highway 10 connecting Sikkim with the rest of country is so badly affected, that a new road is being constructed by the Indian Army.

Paying no heed to the mounting evidences of ecological damage, and refusing to learn any lesson from the recent disasters in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, the state government of West Bengal, Gorkha Territorial Administration and NHPC are planning yet more dams on Teesta. In the already over-built and ecologically unsustainable towns in the regions, more multistoried buildings are coming up, without any regulatory check or control whatsoever. New tourism projects are being encouraged without taking into account the crucial issue of ecology and environment.

And all these are happening in a geographival zone that is marked as sesismic, and has experienced a number of earthquakes in recent months. As expected, the earthquakes have added to the problem, and probably increased the dangers of landslides manifold.
Lila Kumar Gurung (HFVO),
Lal Singh Bhujel (UBVJSM), Soumitra Ghosh (NESPON)

Vol. 48, No. 6, Aug 16 - 22, 2015