Impending Landslide Warning System Vandalized at Sikkim

TNI News Service

Webdesk, TNI Gangtok 6th May, 2018: A landslide-warning system being installed by researchers of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham at Chandmari Village in Sikkim’s Gangtok District has been severely vandalized, with cut wires and broken equipment strewn at the site. This has laid waste to two years of field work by team members from Amrita who has been traveling from its Kerala campus to install a network of sensors that would help provide early warning to villagers if a rainfall-induced landslide was deemed imminent. They will now have to start all over again, as the system at all the four deployment sites in the village has been damaged beyond repair by miscreants. The project is co-funded by the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Govt. of India. Dr. Maneesha Sudheer, Project Lead and Director of Amrita Center for Wireless Networks & Applications, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Kerala, said: “We are researchers from an educational institution — Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham in Kerala. Our team’s goal here is only to the save the lives of Chandmari residents, as this area is prone to rainfall-induced landslides. However, vandalism is affecting the project’s on-time delivery to those who need it the most—the residents of the community.

Due to these multiple thefts and vandalism cases, we have lost more than Rs 40 lakhs of project funds, along with non-reproducible meteorological, geological and hydrological data, and all the equipment integrated with our scientific and engineering outputs. We very badly need the support and cooperation of the people in the community to stop the vandalism and theft immediately. Otherwise, we will not be able to progress with our work, which is for the benefit of the people. We are working for the people and we need their support to make this project a success.” The vandalism came to light when researchers visited the village for final deployment of the complete system. “The system represented years of research work, continuous long-distance travel and time spent away from family, months of data collected and now lost, funding gone to waste, and over 7,000 hours of manual fieldwork carried out by the team, which faced challenges with varying climate patterns, treacherous terrain, and even attacks by local wildlife to make the system operational. Despite facing and overcoming these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the biggest impediment to our success seems to be man-made. This is the second time in the last one year that the system has been vandalized in Sikkim,” Dr. Maneesha Sudheer added. Sikkim is a landslide-prone area. The after-effects of landslides include structural damage to homes and villages, financial losses and loss of life. According to DRDO’s Defence Terrain Research Laboratory, landslides rank third in India in terms of the number of deaths due to natural disasters. In the Himalayan region, they kill one person per 100 km and inflict estimated average losses of Rs. 550 crore every year. “We have already reported the incident to the Local Councillor of Chandmari; Additional Director, Dept. of Land Revenue and Disaster Management; and the District Collector of Gangtok, Sikkim. We have also filed a case about this incident to the Sikkim Sadar Police Department. We urge the Government of Sikkim to initiate community-engagement programs to create awareness among the citizens about this system, its motive, and benefits,” said Dr. Maneesha Sudheer. “We cannot carry forward this work alone.”

Photos: VC Kolkata

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