Gangtok, 04 May: A landslide-warning system being installed by researchers of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Kerala at Chandmari Village in East Sikkim has been severely vandalised, with cut wires and broken equipment strewn at the site.
The act has wasted two years of field work by the team members from Amrita who have been travelling 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.
The project is co-funded by the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Govt. of India.
Saddened by the loss and destruction of something that was meant to help the people of Chandmari, Dr. Maneesha Sudheer, Project Lead and Director of Amrita Center for Wireless Networks & Applications, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham said, “We are researchers from an educational institution. 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 equipments 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. All these along with the funding 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 have gone to waste. 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 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.
In 2014, Amrita researchers began to develop an integrated wireless-sensor network system for the detection and monitoring warning of landslides in Chandmari, Gangtok, a project initiated in collaboration with the Sikkim State Disaster Management Authority and co-funded by the Ministry of Earth Sciences and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Kerala.
Extensive research and site surveys were conducted to understand the region.
Subsequently, the Amrita team travelled several times to Sikkim for the pilot deployment that was conducted from April to June 2015, where they collaborated with expert geologists and chose four locations in the village of Chandmari to set up components of the system.
After 16 months of hard work, the pilot system, integrated with wireless communication, started functioning from June 2016 onwards—a major achievement for the team.
On a routine check-in to further enhance the monitoring system, the team visited the four locations again in January 2017, when they discovered system components at all four locations had been vandalised. With critical units and parts missing, the system was left un-operational. This resulted in the loss of crucial scientific data required for developing the early warning solution for the residents of Chandmari.
Amrita’s chancellor, world-renowned humanitarian leader Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, granted additional funds in 2017 to redevelop and redeploy the system in Sikkim that was previously vandalized. As saving lives is of paramount importance, the Chancellor has been directly involved in the project from its inception and has taken personal interest, making it a priority for the institution to see the project through completion. However, with incidents of vandalism continuing, the work has halted for the time being.
“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. We have also filed a case about the 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.