Ecological Disasters in Sikkim

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June 29, 2024

Why in News?

Recently, the state of Sikkim in Northeast India was hit by a major landslide caused by heavy rainfall, wreaking havoc among the population.

Why Sikkim is prone to ecological disasters?

  • Incessant rainfall – It records one of the highest annual rainfalls in the country.
  • Landslides – With a steep altitude variation over a span of longer areas, it has always remained vulnerable to landslides.
  • It ranges from from 231 meters above sea level in the south to 8,500 meters in the northwest, over a span of just 114 kilometers.
    • There has been a noticeable increase in the frequency of landslides since 1995, with another significant increase starting in 2007.
  • Earthquake – It lies in the high seismic zones IV and V in earthquake prone Himalayas.
    • In 2011, the region experienced one of the most fatal earthquakes in its history.
  • GLOF – A Glacial Lake Outburst Flood in 2023 affected about 88,400 people.

A Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) are sudden and often catastrophic events that occur when water contained within or underneath a glacier or a moraine-dammed glacial lake is released rapidly.

  • Higher population pressure – From just one urban town in 1981, the number of towns increased to eight by 2001.
  • The population living in urban areas rose from 2% percent in 1951 to 11% in 2011.
    • The introduction of the North East Industrial and Investment Promotion Policy in 2007 saw a push for rapid urbanization and industrialization.
  • Rampant construction of dams – Large-scale developmental activity in Sikkim began with the West Bengal government’s damming of the Teesta River in 1975.
    • As of 2019, there were more than 40 hydropower projects in different stages of development in Sikkim.
  • Security-Development projects – A significant construction activity has been undertaken to build a railway line connecting Sevoke in West Bengal to Rangpo in Sikkim, with the ultimate aim of extending it to the Nathu La Pass bordering China.
  • The railway line construction, meanwhile, involved blasting 14 tunnels in an already precarious landscape.


  • It is a landlocked Indian state nestled in the Himalayas.
  • It is one of the 8 north-eastern states in India.
  • Borders – It borders Nepal to the west, Tibet to the north and east, and Bhutan to the southeast.
  • The state of West Bengal borders Sikkim to its south.
  • Size – It is the second-smallest state after Goa in total area.
  • Population – With just slightly over 600,000 permanent residents, Sikkim is the least populous state in India.
  • Physiography – The entire state is mountainous, with altitudes ranging from 300 to 8,586 meters from sea level, therefore despite its small area, it is geographically diverse.
  • Kanchenjunga, the world's third-highest peak, is located on Sikkim's border with Nepal.
  • About a third of the land is heavily forested.
  • Sikkim's hot springs are known for medicinal and therapeutic values.
  • Climate – The climate ranges from subtropical to high alpine and a rich diversity in flora and fauna thrives in the state.
  • River Teesta – It is described as the "lifeline of Sikkim", flows through the state from north to south.
  • Geo-strategic importance – Sharing international borders with three countries it lies in a geopolitically strategic location.
  • Historical clashes between India and China at the Sikkim frontiers, including the 1967 war, the 2017 Doklam standoff, and the 2021 border skirmish, underscore the strategic importance of the region.


What are the impacts of disasters in Sikkim?

  • Destruction of ecosystem – Disasters destroys the natural landscape of Sikkim and alters it making it non-conducive for living both for humans and wildlife.
  • Damage to property – It causes severe damage to roads, bridges, and homes.
  • The 2023 GLOF occurred in South Lhonak Lake in northern Sikkim, rupturing one of the region’s highest dams on the Teesta River, the Chungthang or Teesta III dam.
  • Loss of life – 2023 GLOF have engulfed everything in its downstream areas including the life of 23 Indian Army soldiers.
  • Affect tourism – About 1,500 tourists, including international visitors, were stranded in northern Sikkim and later rescued.
  • Disconnect the state – Roads connecting Sikkim and north Bengal to the plains of India were cut off for a long time.

What lies ahead?

  • Strengthening the regulation – Regulating, monitoring and planning of land use, land-use change and forestry in the Himalaya is needed.
  • Granting rights – The local communities be given constitutional, land and forest governance rights.
  • Efficient implementation - Constitutional provisions and laws that support decentralised governance and decision-making should be efficiently implemented.
  • Following best practices – Encourage transparency, knowledge sharing and exchange so that indigenous knowledge and local communities can also be part of governance.
  • Building resilient societies – Making the locals as equitable and sustainable can ensure the proper implementation of SC/ST Sub plans in mountain states
  • Better disaster management – Have a strong disaster response system ready, including time-bound and full union government support whenever extreme events occur.


The Diplomat| Ecological Disasters in Sikkim

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