ROAD WOES: Hills join plains in road complaint – a state of collapse, so just pack up and leave ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Kalimpong, Sept. 2: Transporters in the hills have threatened to join hands with their counterparts in the plains over the poor road condition.
The far-flung areas of Kalimpong subdivision bordering the Dooars, however, continue to be affected by the three-day bus strike in the plains.
The Janmukti Chalak Mahasangh, which is affiliated to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, said the condition of NH31A that links Kalimpong with Siliguri had become so bad that driving on it was fraught with danger.
“We want the authorities in charge of maintaining the highway to carry out immediate restoration work, failing which, we will be forced to call a transport strike,” said T.D. Bhutia, the president of the Mahasangh.
However, before taking a decision on the strike, the Mahasangh plans to meet Darjeeling MP Jaswant Singh, who is currently in the hills, and urge him to take up the matter with the Union transport ministry in Delhi so that the restoration is done on a war footing.
“We will seek Singh’s advice before going ahead with our plans,” said Bhutia.
Two different agencies are in charge of maintaining the highway. While the national highway division of the state PWD maintains the 22-km stretch (NH31) between Siliguri and the Coronation Bridge at Sevoke, the Border Roads Organisation looks after NH31A that runs from the bridge to Sikkim.
Both the agencies blame the monsoon for the delay in carrying out the road repair.
While rain-triggered landslides that occur regularly at different points along NH31A is a major contributory factor in damaging the road, the abysmal condition of the stretch between Siliguri and Sevoke is primarily because of negligence and shoddy restoration work, drivers allege.
“The major portion of the Siliguri-Sevoke stretch is in the plains, which means barring rains, there is no other adverse nature interference. But those looking after its maintenance are so callous that the road does not even last a rainy season after every repair,” said a driver.
In the Gorubathan block of the subdivision that borders the Dooars, the ongoing bus strike is beginning to hit the local people, especially schoolchildren from neighbouring Damdim and Malbazar, which are in Jalpaiguri district.
“Almost 40 per cent of our 2,000-odd students come from these areas. However, because of the bus strike, the overall attendance in our school has come down by as much as 30 per cent,” said Sanjay Ghisingh, a teacher of Judhabir Higher Secondary School in Gorubathan.
Villagers from the block, including places as far as Jholung, Jaldhaka and other villages bordering Bhutan, said the cost of travel had gone up for them as they were forced to take smaller vehicles to commute at more than double the fare.
“Our greatest fear is if the strike continues for longer period, the prices of essential commodities will start going up,” said Dal Bahadur Rai, a villager from the area.
Minister promise fails to budge bus owners – Protesters to wait out 15 days – promises, promises, promises – like the state crying wolf, now totally untrusted ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, Sept. 2: A promise by the state public works minister to repair the roads within a fortnight has failed to move the private bus owners who said they would continue with their strike till the routes became “motorable” in Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts.
Public works minister Kshiti Goswami, while requesting the bus owners to withdraw the strike, admitted that although a 147-km stretch between Siliguri and Falakata had been handed over to the NHAI for the construction of a four-lane corridor, 60 per cent of it was in a dire state.
“The NHAI (National Highways Authority of India) officials have informed us that Rs 26 crore has been sanctioned for the repair. On our part, the PWD has started repairing the state and national highways under our jurisdiction. The condition of the roads will improve within a fortnight and I request the private transport owners, who have resorted to indefinite strike, to resume services. Instructions to ensure that the repair is completed within 15 days have been passed to the necessary quarters,” the minister said after a meeting between his department and administrative and police officials of the three districts at the Jalpaiguri circuit house.
The minister said buses would be allowed to use parallel routes through villages during the 15-day repair. These roads are maintained by the zilla parishad.
“We have asked the zilla parishad to allow the use of these roads and the police officers of districts concerned to be on the alert to ensure that buses plying the parallel roads do not face any trouble. Our officials will be there to monitor the situation,” the minister added.
Citing an example, the minister said instead of NH31D that connects Siliguri to Jalpaiguri, buses can use the Siliguri-New Jalpaiguri-Ambari-Belakoba-Dashdarga-Rangdhamali route to reach Jalpaiguri.
The bus owners, however, have rejected the minister’s proposal.
“Several such promises were made earlier but not an inch of any road was repaired and the conditions worsened by the day,” said Pranab Mani, secretary of the North Bengal Passenger Transport Owners’ Coordination Committee. “We are prepared to continue the strike for another fortnight. We have heard the minister say that the roads would be ready within 15 days. We are ready to wait till they become motorable. There is no question of withdrawing the strike.”
Around 1,500 private buses, which ferry 1 lakh people in the three districts everyday, are off the roads for the past three days because of craters that mark the routes. The bus owners said bad roads increased the maintenance cost of vehicles.
While the minister was busy at the meeting, 30-35 SUCI supporters demonstrated in front of the circuit house, blaming the state government for the bad roads. They were, however, whisked away by a force from Kotwali police station and later released.
On the third day of the strike, daily commuters continued to swarm the railway stations with the rush increasing in the local and express trains. “We cannot exactly say what is the percentage of increase in train passengers but definitely more people are travelling to Jalpaiguri, Mainaguri, Dhupguri, Falakata, Cooch Behar and Alipurduar for the past few days,” said G.D. Mondal, the station manager of New Jalpaiguri.
“Also, purchase of monthly and quarterly tickets have increased.”