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Kohima, Sep. 10 (EMN): Kohima town, the administrative nerve centre of Nagaland, has taken a huge blow from the monsoon rains this year as about 1,300 families in the district so far are reported to have been affected by monsoon-related emergencies particularly by landslides.
According to the deputy commissioner (DC) of Kohima, Rajesh Soundararajan, the given record is the verified figure till August 2018; the district administration is constantly updating the information as monsoon is still on. Expressing apprehension that the number could increase if the rains continue, he said it is ‘high time’ that the state enforce building by-laws and engage mitigation plans.
The extent of damage encompasses infrastructure, mainly roads, houses, and agricultural fields. The DC informed that till date, around INR 40 lac had been given out as immediate relief for the displaced and affected families as well as for temporary restoration works. In August, funds amounting to INR 5000 each was said to have been given to displaced families, as per SDRF norms.
The DC, who also heads the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), said that the administration was ready to provide for relief camps but the necessity did not arise. He acknowledged the community spirit of the Naga society, saying that the displaced were being given shelter by relatives and friends. He informed that the DDMA has also identified relief camps by communicating with colony panchayats, should a need from the camps arise.
On the other hand, the administrator expressed concern that some people were trying to take advantage of the situation by filing false claims, some of which have been verified recently. While appealing to the people not to make undue claims, the DC cautioned that if anyone is found doing so, action would be initiated against them.
Displaced families find compassion
Hundreds of people who have been rendered homeless as a result of extensive landslides occurring in different localities in the capital town continue to struggle to come to terms with the loss and trauma.
“Any small crushing sound wakes us up and we are unable to sleep, with the fear that the building we now live in might collapse anytime,” says Theyephu, a driver by profession and father of five, whose house was destroyed by a massive landslide at Pezielietsie colony. He built the house from a service loan. The house was washed away before he could finish paying off the loan. His family now resides in a rented apartment in Seikhazou which would cost them INR 5000 per month.
For Neihu Theünuo, a retired sub-inspector of the state’s police establishment, his family of six members used to own a trendy home in the locality before landslides destroyed it. The house was constructed with his pension benefits. Now, they are living in a makeshift shelter made of corrugated sheets on a neighbour’s land.
“My neighbour (the landowner) has been so generous. When we asked to occupy a small plot of his land on lease basis, he said we could stay on his land for free for as long as we are unable to rebuild our place,” Theünuo said emotionally. He said his family has no other land and they hope to level the area of their old plot once the subsidence ceases. “If not, we don’t have any choice other than pack our things and go back to our village,” he added while also saying that such a situation would affect his children’s education and future.
The Pezielietsie area is one of the most adversely affected sites in Kohima as both the gullies bordering it from Sepfüzou and Naga Bazar colonies on the opposite ends were washed away gradually. The inter-ministerial central team members who were recently in the state to assess the extent of damage also inspected the area. It is learned that the locality is inhabited mostly by pensioners, widows, and students.
A 27 years old wife of a soldier, Zuhuvolu, a mother of three, is putting up at her parents’ house. Their house was washed away in July. She informed that her family was quite comfortable as compared to many other displaced families, even though they have to cram up in her parents’ small storeroom for the time being.
For Visheli, a single mother who takes care of her younger siblings, she is uncertain about their future. “We have rented a couple of rooms nearby for INR 3000 per month. But I don’t know how we are going to manage. We have been surviving on my father’s small pension but now with our small plot of land gone, I am still wondering how we are going to get by,” she said.
It is estimated that the people of the area lost properties worth INR five to 30 lac, which were mostly from earning and savings. Their biggest apprehension is whether the lands they bought through a lifetime of service to the government would remain theirs if the landslide continues to drag away chunks of earth in the area.
It was learned that besides the funds paid to them by the DDMA, other NGO have also contributed to help alleviate their plight. A church organisation was said to have recently donated INR 10000 each to each affected landowner; the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) contributed essential commodities to displaced families; youth and public organization helped in shifting belongings of the affected families and so on.
State’s building by-law lying in cold storage
Nagaland government has framed its building by-laws which got enacted in 2005 and amended in 2012, but it remains to be enforced. An official of the Urban Development department had earlier in 2016 told Eastern Mirror that there were problems in implementing the by-laws due to the unique landholding system in the state but the provision of the regulations were being updated to the present context and competent authorities were examining to make suitable recommendations. After this, he stated the process of transferring the implementation powers to the urban local bodies would take place.
Experts continue to point out that absence of proper building codes is one of the key reasons why a town like Kohima is vulnerable to from different forms of disasters, landslides and earthquakes in particular. In April 2016, the Nagaland State Disaster Management Authority (NSDMA) brought out a report on Terrain Stability Study of Kohima to identify vulnerable zones and the factors responsible so as to help planners to help retrofit the township to a safer one, considering the town being ‘geologically unstable’. This report waved a red flag in almost every aspect that the capital town has spiraled to its present urban position since 1963, without proper planning and building codes. “The rapid urbanization, coupled with haphazard developments with little or no planning has deteriorated diversely the stability of the terrain while the intense monsoon is a factor that initiates frequent landslides in the area”, the NSDMA study report pointed out.
Some of the field observations made in the report included construction of roads and buildings without adequate slope support structure; inadequate surface and sub-surface drainage in colonies/wards of Kohima town and random obstruction of drainages; Poor maintenance of natural drainages and “nullahs” by random waste accumulation posing hazards to the neighbourhood; Random erection of buildings without site investigation in previous landslide areas and without following proper technical specifications; No proper building/infrastructure development code (IDC)for regulation; Random increase of overhead load pressure ‘storied buildings’ in steep slopes; Inadequate maintenance of water pipelines, storage tanks, septic tanks etc; Lack of safety measures in the neighbourhood in susceptible landslide areas; Ignorance of general public on vulnerable hazards and safety measures relating to geo-hazards like landslide, earthquake, flashfloods, cloudbursts etc; and Lack of coordination between line departments in executing infrastructure developmental activities like roads, buildings, power lines, water pipelines etc.
Along with these observations, the report had suggested several points of action plan and policy for the state government to consider, which could be applied not just to Kohima but throughout the state to mitigate vulnerability to disasters like landslides.
The suggested action plan include establishing necessary techno-legal and techno-financial mechanisms to address the problem of landslide hazards in the state, while ensuring that all stakeholders like builders, architects, engineers and government departments responsible for regulation and enforcement adopt land use-safe practices and provide safety norms as far as slope stability is concerned in landslide affected areas in particular, and hilly areas in general. It also proposed the need for the state government in consultation with the local bodies to prepare Master Town Plan and Country Planning for individual urban centres/large villages, putting in place building regulations/by-laws to provide mandatory techno-legal framework for regulating building activities from planning, design and completion of the construction.
At the policy level, it proposed that the state government initiate a ‘landslide control board to engage risk treatment, monitoring, awareness and preparation, capacity development, and research and development.~EMN