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NH55 repair hope after Pujas

Darjeeling, Aug. 17: A stretch on NH55 blocked at Tindharia for nearly a year because of landslides is set to be repaired after the Pujas.

The Centre, which will fund the project, has accepted the proposal for repairs by a Delhi-based consultancy firm for the NH55 stretch in Tindharia. The highway links Darjeeling with Siliguri.

The LEA Associates South Asia Pvt Ltd (LASA) has suggested the construction of a concrete wall along the mountainside. The ministry of surface transport has sent the Rs 57-crore proposal to the state government for its comments.

Traffic along the Siliguri-Kurseong section of NH55 has been closed since June 2010 because of landslides at Tindharia and Paglajhora.

Nirmal Mondal, an executive engineer of the public works department (national highway division IX), today said: “The comments will be sent to the ministry by Tuesday. The proposal is for the Tindharia stretch and according to the proposal, Rs 57 crore would be needed to repair the stretch.”

The Centre has already sanctioned Rs 63 lakh for repairs of the highway at Paglajhora. “Work on the Paglajhora stretch will start from the next week,” Mondal said.

The 500m stretch at Paglajhora was washed away in a landslide on June 16, 2010, after which the highway has been shut between Siliguri and Kurseong.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway also stopped running toy trains along the route as the tracks, which run parallel to the highway, were also destroyed.

Another stretch of the highway, also called Hill Cart Road, was hit by landslides at Tindharia on September 28, 2011. Nearly 150m were washed away. Another slide destroyed the Hill Cart Road on July 19, 2012.

The National Highways Authority of India hopes that once the state sends its comments on the stability and cost of repairs at Tindharia, work would commence after the Pujas. Mondal said LASA had proposed to build the road without going for the construction of a tunnel or realignment of the route.

Once the road is completed, the DHR can also breathe a sigh of relief. “The major work lies with the national highway authorities. If they repair the road, we, too, can start restoring the tracks,” said M.D. Bhutia, director, DHR.

The repair would help the DHR in another way. Its 100-year-old workshop at Tindharia is perched precariously 200m above the stretch of NH55 that had caved in last year. “We are ensuring that the DHR engines are in running condition by doing on-site repairs, but inaccessibility to the workshop means we cannot do any elaborate maintenance work,” Bhutia said.

The closure of the highway has been a huge problem to the local people for the last two years. “Tindharia has three high schools and a railway hospital. People from areas like Mahanadi, Gayabari and Chunabatti are being forced to use a circuitous route through Kurseong and Sukna to reach Tindharia. We have to shell out Rs 100 to travel between Mahanadi and Tindharia, instead of Rs 20,” said P. Giri, a resident of the area.

With the closure of NH55, heavy vehicles ferrying essential commodities from Siliguri to Darjeeling are being forced to use the circuitous route of Mungpoo and Mirik.

This has led to escalation of the prices of essential commodities in the hills.