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Craters drive buses off roads

- Nearly half of highway vehicles sit idle fearing damage

Siliguri, July 24: Around 100 private buses from Siliguri to Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar have gone off the roads because of the pathetic potholed condition of two national highways — NH31C and NH31D.

The NH31D connects Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar to this town while the NH31C connects Dooars and Alipurduar to Siliguri.

“In total, 150-200 private buses run from Siliguri to different parts of Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts. The bad condition of both highways has made the owners of more than half of the buses pull off the roads,” said Pranab Mani, the secretary of the North Bengal Passenger Transport Owners’ Co-ordination Committee.

“We understand the problems faced by commuters because of shortage of buses but we cannot force our members, who have withdrawn their vehicles, to resume services. Many of our members have told us that they prefer to keep the buses off the road. This would at least reduce the high repair costs they had to bear because of the bad roads,” he said.

Residents and transporters in the three north Bengal districts, where bad roads are a daily commuter hassle, had seen hope after the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, J.N. Patel, filed a PIL on pathetic condition of the NH31C recently.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who had a bone-shaking ride from Bagdogra to Jalpaiguri and then to Cooch Behar, had also asked the NHAI and PWD officials to immediately initiate repairs on the highway.

“Nothing however, has changed. Traffic congestion, accidents and breakdown of vehicles are regular. But the numbers of private buses are reducing and adding to our problems,” said Dipak Haldar, a daily commuter.

“Unlike south Bengal, we have hardly four-five local trains plying between these towns from NJP. Also, there are pocket routes like Mathabhanga and Changrabandha where there are no train services.”

“The NH31D is in a deplorable state. The condition of NH31C on the Bagdogra-Naxalbari route is as bad. Roads within the rural areas of Siliguri subdivision and in the city are bad too,” said Adarsh Agarwal, a businessman here.

According to bus and truck owners, if the roads are not repaired, the number of private vehicles on the two highways will reduce further.

A preliminary assessment shows that inside Siliguri, around 150km of road are in abysmal condition because of incessant rains in the area earlier this month.

Krishna Pal, the member mayor-in-council (PWD), said: “The civic body has sanctioned a sum of Rs 1 crore from its emergency fund which would be used for repairing the potholes and other damage once the rain stops. Funds have been sought from the state urban development department for elaborate repairs.”

Officials of the National Highways Authority of India and state PWD said funds have been sanctioned for repair.