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Balasun queries hit army hurdle
- Elders fail to find reasons for delay in the completion of water scheme

A water treatment plant of the Balasun project at Sindhap. File picture

Darjeeling, Sept. 21: A group of senior citizens tracking the Balasun Drinking Water Project is being made to run from pillar to post seeking an answer to why the army has delayed the project, but none is forthcoming.

The Concerned Citizens’ Association had sought to know the status of the project from army officers in Darjeeling. Their query was forwarded to the eastern command in Calcutta, which in turn sent the matter to the defence ministry in Delhi. But the ministry has now sent the matter back to Darjeeling.

The Balasun project which is supposed to end the water woes of Darjeeling residents is stuck after five years of work because the army has not yet given permission to lay pipelines through its cantonment area in the town.

Construction for the Rs 55.86-crore project started in 2007. When complete, the Balasun project would pump water for 16 hours a day to supply 2 million gallons of water to Darjeeling from the Balasun river through two pumping stations.At the moment Darjeeling requires about 15-18 lakh gallons of water everyday but the municipality is in a position to arrange for only about 7-8 lakh gallons. Water was pumped from the Balasun to Tiger Hill on April 8, 2012, which suggests that the major part of work for the project has been completed. Pipes have to be laid from Tiger Hill to St Paul’s and Rockville reservoirs in Darjeeling town. These pipes would pass through the army area at Jalaphar and Katapahar.The project is being executed by the public health engineering (PHE) department. On June11, the senior citizens wrote to the principal director, defence estate, Calcutta, and also to the PHE directorate, seeking a status report on the project under the RTI Act.

The PHE directorate replied on July 2, 2012, stating that it was yet to receive a “no-objection certificate” from the army to lay the pipes. On June 28, 2012, the office of the principal director, the defence estate of the Eastern Command in Calcutta replied to J.B. Edwards, the general secretary of the citizens’ association, that his query had been sent to the director general, defence estates, New Delhi.

On August 31, the army headquarters sent the matter back to the public information officer of station headquarters in Darjeeling. The letter written by Major P. Nagaraj of the RTI cell of army headquarters said: “Since the subject… pertains to/is more closely related to the functions of your office/office under your jurisdiction, the application, is therefore transferred to you”.Edwards said: “Finally, the matter has come back to Darjeeling. We are wondering who is the appropriate authority to answer our questions.”