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Sikkim is silent but resilient, says MP
SANJOY HAZARIKA  25th Sep 2011

Earthquake victims at Tungh in North Sikkim on Friday. PTI

.D. Rai, Sikkim's tech-savvy Member of Parliament, who is the first IIM and IIT graduate in India to make it to Parliament, is adviser to Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling (who, for some reason best known to him, wears only suits at public meetings, including during the time he has been seen visiting the devastated areas). Rai had just seen off West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and was gearing up for the day during this early morning conversation with Sanjoy Hazarika over phone.

On the scale of the earthquake and preparedness.

Let's face it; the state government was not prepared for anything on this scale. We had a disaster preparedness cell, there were a few meetings. It was all on paper. There was no plan, no dissemination to villages. In fact, most of the relief work initially was voluntary, inspiring others to do likewise or more. There has been silent resilience; there is a lot of voluntarism. That resilience comes from being stuck for days without access because being landlocked, because there are many landslides. You have to stock up on food, water, cooking oil. So they have experience in this area. So, one of the lessons of this tragedy is that we need to be alert and very cognizant of the need to evacuate the badly injured to hospitals in Sikkim or outside the state. That has been a problem. The airport near Gangtok is supposed to be ready in 2013. We need to recognise that there is a mountain paradigm, which must form the core of designing roads and buildings; we need to standardise these things, we build institutions in terms of research, design and building laws ... civil society will have to play a part, but work in conjunct with those working on the sector of standards and specifications. This is a real wake-up call on respecting mountain ecology, on building networks and institutions which develop quake resilient technology.

On the role of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and relief measures.

One good thing is that the village panchayats and systems have been strong and working well in Sikkim. So they were the first line of defence. The Army and the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) reached much later, when the main highway connecting Bagdogra and Siliguri with Gangtok was cleared. But the point here is, as you have said, why fly in rescue units from New Delhi? There is an NDRF battalion near Guwahati, there are NDRF battalions close to Gangtok and then many of the people I saw were unlikely to function effectively at above 8,000 ft, looking at their physical capabilities. They are a coordinated force.

On the designs of buildings.

This is one of the most critical issues and top priorities. There are a number of official reports on this, but implementation has been poor. It takes a jolt like this to wake us up. We need to map out building strategies for roads, highways and buildings as well as bridges in this highly seismic zone that pays attention to traditional wisdom, good science and good quality construction materials. And governments have to crack the whip on implementation especially in the more crowded areas of the Northeast.

On counselling and trauma.

As a country, we do no pay enough attention to this issue. We need to build counselling centres; and talking to victims, treating them should take place at emergency response, as part of disaster preparedness.


  • The Indian plate is still moving northward. In 10 million years India is expected to plough 180 km into Tibet.
  • Human beings can detect sounds in the frequency range 20-20,000 Hertz. If a P-wave refracts out of the rock surface into the air, and has a frequency in the audible range, it will be heard as a rumble. Most earthquake waves have a frequency of less than 20 Hz, so the waves themselves are usually not heard. Most of the rumbling noise heard ­during an earthquake are from buildings (and their contents) moving.
  • The ground does not open up during an earthquake. Shallow crevasses can form during earthquake-induced landslides, lateral spreads, or other types of ground failures. Faults, however, do not open up during an ­earthquake. Movement occurs along the plane of a fault, not perpendicular to it. If faults opened up, no earthquake would occur because there would be no friction to lock them together.

Source: US Geological Survey (

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