NATURAL DISASTER: Rain breaches highway to Sikkim – Traffic takes detour at double the time

NH31A - Massive damage at Likhubhir - no foresight on highway capacity nor shore-up control by Bengal ?!! (Darpan)

NATURAL DISASTER: Rain breaches highway to Sikkim – Traffic takes detour at double the time – recurring and manmade, as traffic load way-way  too heavy and shoring up construction ignored for far too long ?!!

A part of NH31A that caved in near Likhubhir in Kalimpong on Thursday - hoping and praying this won't happen ?!! (Chinlop Fudong Lepcha)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Kalimpong, Aug. 19: A 40-metre stretch of the national highway to Sikkim breached at Likhubhir this afternoon after a bout of heavy rain, stopping heavy vehicles carrying supplies to the Himalayan state and forcing the smaller ones to make a detour that takes nearly double the usual time.

The breach on NH31A, Sikkim’s only direct road link with the rest of the country, occurred 17km from Kalimpong town that is also linked by the highway.

Sources in the Border Roads Organisation, which maintains the highway, said they were trying their best to open at least one-way traffic on the stretch by tomorrow. “We have pressed two JCBs (excavators) and a dozer into service at the troubled spot to facilitate the speedy restoration of the road. We may have to work throughout the night to get the job done. If needed, we will bring more equipment,” said a BRO source.

Daily Traffic on NH31A sans Army Convoys - common sense dictates that the load is way-way too much and that alternatives are a must ?!! (Himal News File Photo)

The cave-in occurred at the landslide-prone Likhubhir, about a kilometre from the Teesta bridge, after heavy rain had lashed the area for 48 hours. Landslides on the stretch are regular occurrences. At times, the rocky hill above the road comes tumbling down, and at other times, the land below the road breaches all the way to the Teesta bank. In fact, even at the best of times, it is difficult to negotiate the stretch which is worse than a dirt track.

The 27th Mile nightmare disaster area above NHPC now greatly repaired - thanks to our MP Jaswant Singh's instant letters to the PM ?!! (Photo by Our Himal News Special Correspondent)

With the road completely gone, vehicles travelling to and from Siliguri have to take detours to reach their destinations on either side of the Teesta. While some vehicles heading for Sikkim took the Algarah-Lava-Damdim Road, others took the route via Takdah Valley. The first route takes an additional 2.5 hours against the usual 3.5 hours. The time taken on the second route is 1.5 hours more.

“The Algarah-Lava-Damdim road takes double the time to reach Siliguri from Kalimpong (usually it takes two hours to cover 65km through the highway). The Takdah valley road will take a little more than three hours,” said T. D. Bhutia, the president of the Janmukti Chalak Mahasangh.

However, vehicles prefer to skip the Takdah valley route as the road is narrow and the terrain is steep. The condition of the Algarah-Lava-Damdim Road is slightly better.

“In any case, I don’t think the road is designed to take the daily pounding of heavy vehicles. And that is why it is imperative that the highway is restored at the earliest,” said Dawa Tamang, a taxi driver who ferries passengers between Kalimpong and Siliguri every day. He took the Algarah-Lava-Damdim road to Siliguri today.

Seated in his Tata Sumo was a worried Nripen Barua, who said he was praying that it did not take more than 4.5 hours to reach Siliguri, otherwise he could miss the 8pm bus to Guwahati. “I have booked a ticket for the last available bus to Guwahati. If I miss it, I will have to spend another night in Siliguri,” he said.

Local people said prices of commodities might go up because of the highway has been shut to heavy vehicles. “I hope the authorities keep tabs on the prices,” said Geeta Lama, a resident of Kalimpong.

Route to reduce lone-road dependence – a four lane highway at last ?!!

2nd Highway Option - much needed relief, for the next century - but the Coronation Bridge is too old and could go also, so a new bridge at Sevoke is also direly needed ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Gangtok, Aug. 19: The Sikkim government has decided to construct an alternative to NH31A to reduce the dependence on the sole roadlink of the state.

Project Swastik of the Border Roads Organisation, which maintains the highways of Sikkim and parts of north Bengal, has started a preliminary study on the alternative link connecting Gangtok with Siliguri via Chulsa.

The proposed alternative road will begin at Khunia More near Chulsa and touch Jaldhaka, Tode, Tangta and Rachela on the Bengal side and end at Kumrek via Aritar in Sikkim. From Aritar, one can reach Gangtok either through Rangpo or via Pakyong, Project Swastik chief engineer Brigadier Rajiv Sawhney said.

The 126km-long stretch from Khunia More to Kumrek includes 74.6km from Khunia More to Rachela in Bengal and 51.4km from Rachela to Kumrek in Sikkim.

According to the preliminary study, Rs 3 crore will be required for construction of 1km of road in the plains, while the amount will be double in the hills.

A joint survey along with the governments of Sikkim and Bengal is going on, said Brigadier Sawhney. “However, dense forest and heavy rainfall are affecting the pace of work on the Aritar-Rachela stretch,” he said.

The route was proposed by the Sikkim government in 2008 as an alternative to NH31A to minimise hardships of the Sikkimese during natural calamities and political disturbances in the neighbouring Darjeeling region.

The demand for alternative highway gathered momentum after NH31A, the state’s only lifeline, was blocked by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha for several days between February-end and early August.

The survey shows that a 25km road already exists from Kunia More to the Jaldhaka power house. This road has to be upgraded. “A new road of 50-56km has to be constructed from beyond the power house up to Rachela while the existing stretch from Aritar to Kumrek has to be upgraded,” the BRO official said.

Forest and land acquisition clearances from both the states may take a year which will be followed by submission of the detailed project report to the Union roads and surface transport ministry.

Five forest and land acquisition clearances will be required from the Bengal side, while two will be needed from the Sikkim government. After the clearances of the detailed project report that will be prepared in five phases, the completion of the alternative highway may take four years.

The chief engineer said the highway could be extended by 53km from Aritar to Menla, near the Nathu-la border, via Rongli to facilitate an alternative road to reach the India-China border.

Families flee swollen Teesta – an angry river ?!!

Below Mahananda Bridge in Siliguri - the anger of the rivers ?!! (Darpan)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Siliguri, Aug. 19: Around 300 more families today left their homes as the water level in Jalpaiguri rose further because of continuous rain in the sub-Himalayan (region).

Vivekanandapally, Saradapally and Sukantapally have been inundated by the Teesta since yesterday.

Nearly 200 families had shifted to safer places yesterday. While some affected people went to their relatives’ houses, others took shelter on an embankment that protects Jalpaiguri town from the Teesta.

“Our locality was already marooned yesterday. As the rain continued last night, the water levels increased and inundated our huts, prompting us to leave with our belongings,” said 38-year-old Jyotsna Roy, who lives in Sukantapally.

Dilip Sen, a resident of Vivekanandapally, said he had abandoned his hut early this morning. “We came to know that it was raining heavily in the hills and that was why water levels were rising in the Teesta. We took no risk and came out of our houses and took shelter with relatives or on the embankment,” he said. “We don’t know how long we will have stay away from our houses as the sky is still cloudy.”

As the flood-hit people kept their fingers crossed, the Regional Met Office in Jalpaiguri forecast heavy rain in the next 24 hours. Weathermen said Sevoke and Domohoni — the catchment areas of the Teesta — had received 126mm and 36.2mm rain in 24 hours till 8.30am today.

While Falakata and Buxa Dooars in the plains recorded 136.6mm and 104mm rain, the figures were 72.4mm and 89.4mm for Darjeeling and Kalimpong in the hills.

The Siliguri Municipal Corporation has intimated the state public works department about the condition of Mahananda bridge at Airview More as the soil was loosening near one of its pillars on the bank.

“Initially, we had engaged an excavator to pile up soil on the bank of the Mahananda as a temple close to the river was in precarious condition. Stone cages were put around the pillar so that it can withstand the force of the water if the river swells further,” said mayor Gangotri Datta.

“However, for permanent repair of the pillar, we have written to the PWD which looks after the bridge. Although it rained heavily last night and the weather is still cloudy, there is no further erosion around the pillar,” she said.

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