A Telegraph report on June 25 on the bad condition of roads in Siliguri, also in north Bengal
Calcutta, July 6: Calcutta High Court Chief Justice J.N. Patel has filed a suo motu PIL before his own bench on the bad condition of National Highway 31C in north Bengal and asked the central government to explain why repairs were not done.
Chief Justice Patel’s move to file a PIL before a bench headed by himself is the first such instance in the high court. He did this after a trip to north Bengal in May when he had to suffer a “terrible” ride down the NH31C between Madarihat and Hasimara, both in Jalpaiguri district.
The highway connects eastern Dooars with Assam and Siliguri.
After moving the PIL in early June, Chief Justice Patel sought a report from the district magistrate of Jalpaiguri, Smaraki Mahapatra, on the bad condition of the 25km stretch of the NH 31C between Madarihat and Hasimara in north Bengal.
Today, the district magistrate submitted her report, admitting that the condition of that portion of the highway was “horrible” and not safe for traffic.
“After the monsoon, the condition of the road would further deteriorate and it would not be possible to allow vehicles on the road,” Mahapatra said in her report.
She said the road was supervised by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), the apex authority for highways in the country, and the state had no role in repairing it. “The NHAI is responsible for repairing of the road,” the report said.
Chief Justice Patel then directed the Centre to file a report on the road. “What is preventing the Government of India from repairing the road? The road should be immediately repaired,” he said in his order.
A senior official of the court said that during his visit to north Bengal in May, Chief Justice Patel “visited some areas of north Bengal. He himself travelled on that stretch in a car and had a terrible experience because of the dismal condition of the road between Madarihat and Hasimara. After returning from there, he moved the suo motu PIL.”
In Siliguri, Pankaj Mishra, the technical manager of the NHAI based there, said the state PWD department had been told to maintain the highway on behalf of the NHAI.
“The responsibility of maintaining our highways is ours. Some we directly maintain, for some others we pay the state PWD to maintain on our behalf. This particular highway is maintained by the PWD on the basis of the payments made by us. So please check with the PWD official in charge of this.”
When the PWD was asked about the highway’s maintenance, it complained that the NHAI had not paid it any money.
Nirmal Mondal, the executive engineer who is in charge of this highway stretch, said in Calcutta: “We have not been paid so far by the NHAI to maintain this stretch. We have been promised that funds would flow in soon so that repairs can start.”
He said department officials had visited Delhi and spoken with officials of the Union surface transport ministry. “Proposals for widening and repairs worth Rs 163 crore were submitted to the ministry, including work for the Madarihat-Hasimara stretch.”
According to police in Madarihat, at least 1,500 vehicles, light and heavy, run on NH31C daily. Pankaj Thapa, the officer in charge of Madarihat police station, said: Every day, around 10 to 12 vehicles break down on various parts of the highway because of the potholes.”
Bus operators on the route have threatened to stop services if the road is not repaired. “We have no other way. About 50 buses ply between Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri and expenses on fuel and repairs have gone up by Rs 1,000-1,200 for each vehicle,” said Gaurav Chakrabarty, the secretary of the Jalpaiguri Dooars MiniBus Owners’ Association.
Sagar Ghosh, a schoolteacher and resident of Alipurduar town, said his commuting time to Birpara had doubled. “I teach in a school in Birpara, 65km from home and it took me one-and-a-half hours to reach school earlier. It now takes double the time,” Ghosh said.