|(From left) Harsh’s father Om Prakash Garg and sister at their house in Darjeeling on Friday. (Below) People read the posters (circled) at Chowk Bazar. Pictures by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, Nov. 14: The hill town remained shut for the second consecutive day to mourn the death of the 14-year-old St Joseph’s School student, Harsh Agarawal.
Harsh had been crushed under the wheels of an army truck, one of the seven in a convoy, at N.C. Goenka Road here yesterday.
Since early this morning, most shopkeepers decided to keep their shutters down even though there were no formal announcements for the closure. Later, around 9am, the Marwari Sahayak Samiti pasted a poster at Chowk Bazar, requesting shopkeepers to keep their shutters down to mourn the death.
Soon, a number of posters surfaced, with the Parbartiya Bhojpuri Manch also supporting the “Darjeeling bandh”. Posters signed by Darjeeling Janta (people of Darjeeling), questioning traffic management came up soon after. The Janta poster also appealed for a shutdown.
The business community brought out a rally around 11.30am. The traders later met Surendra Gupta, the district magistrate of Darjeeling. The focus of the meeting, however, was the lack of parking space in town.
B.M. Garg, the president of the Darjeeling Chamber of Commerce, said: “The rally was called to mourn the death. But the move to close shops was spontaneous. We also decided to discuss the absence of proper parking facilities. The incident should open the eyes of all concerned and there should be long term solutions.”
With virtually no parking space in Darjeeling, most of the vehicles are forced to stand along the road leaving very little space for pedestrians. In fact, there has been no concrete proposal ever from the government to address the parking problem. Earlier, the Darjeeling Municipality had proposed to construct a parking lot on the rooftop of a shopping complex. The idea was soon abandoned.
Much earlier, the district administration had identified a space at Dali, 4km from town but this plan, too, did not take off. The most recent proposal had been parking provisions at Happy Valley Tea Estate, another plan which has been put in the cold storage.
The district magistrate said a meeting would be held on November 17 on traffic management. “We will invite the army and will work out both short term and long term measures,” said Gupta. Even though heavy vehicles are not allowed to enter town between 8am and 8pm, there are no restrictions on movement of army trucks.
The Agarawal family at Belombore Road, near Dhirdham temple, was still in a state of shock even as a steady stream of well-wishers continued to flow to express their condolences to the bereaved family.
Harsh, whose school was closed because of a students’ strike, was returning from his father’s garments shop in Chowk Bazar around 12.45pm when he came under the wheels of the truck. A witness had said there were three children standing at the bend when the truck suddenly tried to reverse. “Two children managed to duck but one of them fell and was killed. The bend is narrow and always crowded. Arup Roy, the driver of the killer truck and a jawan with the Army Supply Corp stationed in Kalimpong, was arrested and handed over to the defence personnel last night.
“Major Mahindra of the ASC Kalimpong had obtained the bail bond for Roy and he was handed over to the army. We will now forward the bond to the chief judicial magistrate’s court after which a date will be fixed for Roy to appear,” said N.T. Sherpa, the inspector-in-charge of the Darjeeling Sadar police station.
The driver has been charged under Section 279 and 304A of the IPC (rash and negligent driving and thereby causing death).