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25ft crater blocks highway
Heavy rain blamed for road cave-in

The caved-in portion of NH31C at the approach of the Zurantee bridge near Malbazar in Jalpaiguri district
on Wednesday. Picture by Biplab Basak

Sept. 26: A portion of the NH31C in Jalpaiguri caved in early today causing a 25-foot crater, deep enough to take in two small cars.

The cave-in happened around 2am near the bridge over the Zurantee river near Bagrakote, which is 37km from Siliguri.

Heavy rains in the last two days and the rising level of water in the Zurantee are being blamed for the cave-in. The condition of the NH31C stretch where the subsidence happened is not bad.

Vehicles from the Northeast and the Dooars that are bound for Siliguri are now making a detour through the Gorumara National Park to the NH31D, which is in a deplorable state. Instead of a 55km drive, it is now 105km that vehicles have to cover. (See map)

Residents said they woke up around 2am after hearing a deafening thud.

The Zurantee, originating from the Metelli hills, had been overflowing for the last few days because of incessant rains that had flooded its catchment area.

“The sides of the road had eroded because of the excessive rain. The soil that forms the foundation of the highway near the bridge was swept away from underneath the road by the river. So, the highway was already weak,” said Nirmal Mondal, the executive engineer of state PWD (NH division IX).

The crater, Mondal said, was 50ft long and 23ft wide and the road cave-in happened on the stretch that approaches the bridge from Siliguri.

He said repairs had started and the road would be restored in 48 hours.

Bagrakote is in the Malbazar subdivision of Jalpaiguri district. Some of the local people who went to the road after hearing the thud stood there all night to warn vehicles. Later, wooden planks were erected on the road to mark out the caved-in spot.

“If we need to travel to Siliguri via Jalpaiguri, it means an additional distance of around 50km. While the distance between Malbazar and Siliguri through NH31C and Sevoke is 55km, the route via Jalpaiguri is 105km long,” said Rajen Pradhan, a Malbazar resident.

The disruption in traffic on NH31C has come just a few days after the Coronation Bridge on the same highway was opened to heavy vehicles after repairs.

The business community, especially the tea industry, is worried about the frequent disruptions on the highways in north Bengal.

“The bar on heavy vehicles from taking the Coronation Bridge was lifted only two days ago. The opening of the Coronation Bridge had brought some relief to us as we could dispatch tea to Siliguri through NH31C, when NH31D is in such a pitiable state. But the collapse of an NH31C portion in the Dooars has posed fresh problems,” said Rajat Deb, the chairman of the Indian Tea Planters’ Association.

“We request the state government to repair the two highways with utmost urgency or else the economy of north Bengal will suffer.”

Smaraki Mahapatra, the district magistrate of Jalpaiguri, said: “We are aware of the collapse of the highway near a bridge in Bagrakote. Discussions have been held with PWD officials and it seems that the highway can be restored in two days.”