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Sikkim slide halts traffic

Kalimpong, July 5: A landslide at Birickdara, about 40km from here, blocked NH31A for more than six hours from 11.30am today, forcing vehicles plying the Kalimpong-Sikkim-Siliguri route to take detours.

The road was reopened for one way traffic from 6pm. A source in the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) said a huge pile of mud came down the hill and accumulated on the road because of heavy rain in the area. “The slide started around 10.20am. We cleared the mud but more rolled down and the road got completely blocked from 11.30am.”

The landslide occurred at a spot where the BRO is engaged in road-widening work.

Commuters had to take a detour to reach their destination. The alternative routes include Lopchu-Peshok and Damdim-Lava-Algarah road.

It takes two hours to commute between Kalimpong and Siliguri through NH31A, while the alternate roads take double the time. The shared taxi fare also increases from Rs 90 to Rs 180.

“I reached here via Lava. It took about five hours because I had to return from near the landslide spot and take a diversion from the Coronation Bridge,” said Sanjay Lama, an executive based here.

Residents of nearby Lohapool and Rambi alleged that the landslide occurred because of the continued cutting of the hills by the BRO even after the monsoon had set in.

“We had requested the BRO not to carry out the road-widening work during the rainy reason because of the fear of landslides. Why should they undertake such work knowing very well that the rains can cause havoc to the fragile hills when they are being disturbed,” said Bishal Rai, a local resident.

The contentions of the locals are borne out by the fact that a landslide had also occurred at a spot in Kalijhora last month where the BRO was engaged in road-widening work.

A BRO official had earlier told The Telegraph that it wouldn’t be possible to completely stop the work during the four month-long monsoon season as the entire schedule and cost of the double-laning would suffer a setback.

“We have limited time to work. We understand that some incidents of landslides happen because of our work, but that should be taken in the spirit of little pain today for tomorrow’s gain. Once the double lane work is done, the people will benefit,” a BRO source said.