SIKKIM NEWS: Court query about slow road widening in Sikkim – Suo Motu Notices to border roads organisation and union ministries – will respond ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Gangtok, May 12: Sikkim High Court has issued suo motu notices to several Union ministries and the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and has sought responses on the bad condition of three strategically important roads in the Himalayan border state.
The roads are NH31A, the only link between Sikkim and the rest of the country, North Sikkim Highway and Jawaharlal Nehru Marg that leads to the India-China border. The Union ministries of surface transport, home, defence and finance, the director-general of the BRO and the Sikkim chief secretary have been given 10 weeks to file their responses.
The court in its order on May 3 has fixed July 16 as the date for the next hearing.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Barin Ghosh and Justice S.P. Wangdi acted on recent media reports on the inferior widening work and poor maintenance of the three roads, posing a threat to the Sikkim residents and tourists.
The judges have pointed out the strategic and security aspects of the three roads passing near the borders with Nepal, China and Bhutan.
Observing that the condition of North Sikkim Highway appeared to be worse, Justice Wangdi said the widening of the road had begun more than seven years back and “surprisingly, the work is yet to be completed and its progress is manifestly slow”.
The bench also noted that the widening of NH31A and Jawaharlal Nehru Marg had commenced a year back, but the speed and manner in which the work was being undertaken did not appear to be satisfactory.
“The progress of work is much below the desired extent considering the huge amount of public money sanctioned for the purpose,” said the bench.
The court said the North Sikkim Highway was used by the defence personnel to reach the passes of Sesela and Thankarla, leading to the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China.
“In the event of an external aggression taking place now, this region of the country would be a sitting duck to be easily overrun in minutes due to the road conditions,” remarked Justice Wangdi in the suo motu public interest litigation. He went on to say that this perception gained more force in view of the reports of the highly developed roads and transport system created on the other side of the borders by neighbouring countries.
All the three widening projects are looked after by Project Swastik of BRO. While Rs 600 crore has been earmarked for the widening of 180km-long North Sikkim Highway, the 66km-long Gangtok-Nathu-la road’s work entails a cost of Rs 495 crore. According to the BRO schedule, both the projects will be completed by 2015.
For NH31A’s widening, the BRO is spending Rs 73.9 crore on the Sikkim side. Survey has not been completed for the 96km long road’s Bengal side.
At least two vehicles had been hit by boulders slipping from hill sides at 13th Mile and 17th Mile while road widening was going on last week. Three tourists and two customs officials were injured in the accidents.
Acknowledging the problem, the outgoing Project Swastik chief engineer, Brigadier R.K. Patyal, called upon his men to ensure that the Gangtok-Nathu-la road was clear during summer and October-November when tourists flocked the state.
“The rain came bit early this time. We have to do stone soiling and take care of drainage system,” said Brigadier Patyal on the Gangtok-Nathu-la widening.
Brigadier Patyal is being replaced by Brigadier Rajiv Sawhney as the new chief engineer of Project Swastik.
Gangtok gets first mayor
Gangtok, May 12: KN Topgay of the SDF was today unanimously chosen the first mayor of Gangtok Municipal Corporation. The 51-year-old Topgay represents Chandmari ward. Shakti Singh was nominated as his deputy.
Topgay said his priority would be to tackle the issues of sewerage and drainage and make Gangtok cleaner.
The civic body has 15 wards and all were won by the SDF. The councillors were administered oath by the Sikkim East district collector today.
The SDF has also won the 32 wards of Namchi Municipal Council and the nagar panchayats of Rangpo, Singtam, Mangan, Geyzing and Jorethang.