LANDSLIDE DISASTER: Highway to Sikkim opened for traffic – Sunshine helps BRO clear debris from NH31A & Mud blow to PSU – while waiting for next heavy rains, clearning equipment should be busy with infrastructural damage shoring and expansion work, or to be left to rust ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Gangtok, Aug 29: Road connectivity between Gangtok and the rest of the country was restored this morning, three days after the vital link, NH31A, struck by landslides at seven places between 32nd Mile and Singtam.
Two days of sunshine helped Project Swastik personnel of the Border Roads Organisation, which maintains the highways of Sikkim, clear the debris and restore traffic. “The landslides were cleared before 11am and the highway is open for both light and heavy vehicles,” said A.K. Singh, the executive engineer of Project Swastik.
While five landslides had been cleared by the BRO, two near the Government Fruit Preservation Factory (GFPF), 28km from here, had been a major headache for the BRO. One of the two had breached about 15m of the road and the other had piled up huge slush on the highway. Fifty labourers and two excavators were engaged to repair the breach and sweep the slush.
Manav Prasad, the commander of 764 Border Roads Task Force, said his personnel had been clearing the debris near the GFPF for the past two days. “But three artificial ponds had been created by the slides about 200m uphill.”
The executive engineer said talks were on with geologists of the Sikkim government to “do something” about the ponds. “We have to wait till the weather clears up. Right now the only temporary measure is to clear the slush whenever it comes,” said Singh.
In the past two days before the traffic was restored on the highway, commuters to and from Gangtok had to depend on transshipment. They used to reach the troubled spot near the GFPF and take a 300m detour on foot and jump into the waiting taxis on the other side. Most of the vehicles from Gangtok used to take a detour from Ranipool, reach Pakyong (28km from here) and then drop 25km down to Rangpo to join NH31A bypassing the slides. Vehicles coming from Siliguri also took the similar route.
The BRO has sought three weeks from Sikkim High Court to file an affidavit on the time schedule for execution of the highway work. It was responding to a suo-motu public interest litigation initiated by the court in May on media reports on the condition of NH31A, North Sikkim Highway and Gangtok-Nathu-la road.
On August 25, A division bench of Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran and Justice S.P. Wangdi had directed the BRO to use the best technology in executing the repair within six months from September 1. “Similarly, the state government shall also identify the roads which are required to be repaired and maintained properly and make such roads fit for transportation,” the court had said. Senior advocates and members of of the Sikkim Bar Association have been asked to bring to the court’s notice the roads that are required to be attended.
Slush shuts down fruit factory – now requesting slush funds, BRO liable ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Gangtok, Aug. 29: The Government Fruit Preservation Factory will remain shut for at least 10 days because of muck and slush seeping down from the national highway above in Singtam.
The temporary shutdown comes at a time the state government has agreed in principle to disinvest or privatise four PSUs, the GFPF being one of them.
The factory, 28km from Gangtok, was set up in 1956 and produces 40-odd items including pickles, juice, ketchups, jam and marmalade with most of the raw material procured from the local farmers.
A landslide on Thursday night had peeled off the hillside and buried around 200 metres of NH31A just above the factory. But three days later, slush continues to flow down the hill into the factory. “Three ponds have been created in the hillside 300 metres above because of the accumulation of rainwater and supply from small streams. Slush continues to pour down even as we clear the existing muck on the roadside,” said 764 Border Roads Task Force commander Manav Prasad who is supervising the restoration of the highway.
The continuous flow of slush has threatened the staff quarters of the GFPF prompting the East district administration to evacuate 18 families.
“We shifted eighteen families yesterday to safer places,” said subdivisional magistrate (East) A.B. Karki. There are 90 employees in the factory.
The managing director of the GFPF, Karma Zimpa, said the unit had been shut since August 27. “The landslides above the factory were dangerous and slush continues to flow down into our premises,” he said. The Rani Khola flowing along the factory has also swelled and has damaged the retaining walls, said the managing director.
“This is a major blow. We are suffering a loss of Rs 1 lakh daily. There is no power and supply of raw material has been hit because of the road condition. The factory will remain closed for 10 to 12 days at the least,” said Zimpa. He also accused the BRO of sweeping down the slush into the factory from the road above.
Project Swastik chief engineer Brigadier Rajeev Sawhney, however, said he would see that the factory compound was cleaned.
The GFPF has been in a financial mess for the past decade. A committee has been formed to see how GFPF and three other state PSUs have been performing for the past seven-eight years and then submit its recommendations to the state government.
“This is a big blow for the factory caused by natural calamity and we hope for full support from the state government,” said Zimpa