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Man, monkey block highway

Alipurduar, Aug. 19: Men and monkeys today brought traffic to a standstill on the NH31 for several hours, the first kind causing a pile-up, the other damaging vehicles.

The humans, specifically residents of Mill Road near Falakata, were angry with the bad state of the highway that was last repaired three years ago. The apes seemed furious because one of their kind was found dead on the road, believed to have been hit by a truck.

The local residents put chairs on the NH31 and sat there for nearly nine hours from 7am to protest the lack of repairs on the stretch between Falakata and Cooch Behar. The resultant snarl blocked 500 vehicles on each side.

The NH31 connects Assam’s Guwahati to Barhi in Bihar. It crosses Siliguri, Falakata, Cooch Behar town and Dalkhola in North Dinajpur in Bengal before entering Kishanganj in Bihar. The road is so potholed that 60 per cent of private buses have stopped running on this route.

The 100-odd residents of Mill Road near Falakata, about 35km from Alipurduar town, withdrew the blockade after 4pm when police came and assured them that they would speak to PWD officials about the repairs.

The PWD looks after maintenance of the NH31 on behalf of the National Highways Authority of India. Earlier, when asked why no repairs were done for three years, the PWD had said it had not got funds from the NHAI.

About 20km away from the Mill Road protest, some 200 monkeys descended on the highway around 9.45am. The animals sat near the body of a dead monkey.

The spot where the monkeys sat is between two tea estates — Tasati and Dalgaon.

Garden hands said one monkey was run over around 9.30am. In 15 minutes, nearly 200 monkeys had swarmed the area.

Some agitated drivers tried to shoo them away, which seemed to anger the animals more. According to eyewitnesses, the monkeys threw stones at the vehicles.

Tea garden staff, in the mean time, contacted forest officials.

Around 10.30am, Manosh Acharjee, the range officer of Dalgaon, reached the spot with a big team.

Initially, the monkeys refused to leave the spot, or perhaps the forest guards proved ineffective. The animals scampered away when fire crackers were burst.

Acharjee expressed surprise at how the monkeys had behaved. “I have been in the forest department for several years now but this was the first time I saw monkeys block a road as if in protest.”

The Mill Road residents said they would block again if the highway was not repaired soon.

The monkeys, thankfully, did not leave any such message.