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Crash barrier plan in limbo

Kalimpong, Nov. 25: The construction of metal crash barriers and parapets along NH31A that connects Siliguri with Kalimpong and Gangtok is unlikely to take place immediately as the Border Roads Organisation is yet to complete the widening of the highway.

There have been demands from people to erect crash barriers along the 80km-long highway after 28 people died when vehicles skidded off the road in the Bengal part of the route and fell into gorges or the Teesta river since April this year.

A senior BRO source said the highway was being widened and that work would have to be completed first. Stretches with a total distance of 29km will be double-laned, while critical spots in another 30km-long portion will be improved to ensure unhindered two-way traffic.

“Our focus right now is to accomplish these tasks at the earliest. We are hoping to complete the work on the Sikkim stretch of the highway next year, and also to speed up work on the Bengal side,” said the official.

About 50km of the highway falls in Bengal, while the remaining portion is in the adjoining Sikkim. Following a spate of accidents on NH31A in the recent past, transporters, political parties and the local administration in Kalimpong had appealed to the BRO and the NHPC, which is executing two power projects in the Teesta river that runs parallel to the highway, to construct the crash barriers to prevent fatal incidents.

“At least 28 people have died in 11 accidents on the Bengal side of the highway after vehicles skidded off the road and fell into gorges or the river since April this year. All these accidents took place on those stretches of the highway which have no crash barriers or parapets,” said a police officer.

After a police officer had been killed in an accident in September, Darjeeling police superintendent Kunal Agarwal requested the NHPC to construct the parapets on vulnerable stretches of NH31A near its project sites.

But the NHPC has taken no such initiative. An official of the central government undertaking told The Telegraph that no formal request for the construction of the crash barriers and parapets had come from the police. “The NHPC, though, is amenable to honouring the request in the larger interest of the society,” he added.

However, all these are of little solace to the transporters and commuters who want the crash barriers to be put up along the entire highway at the earliest. “We will continue demanding the construction of the barriers. Ideally, the agencies in-charge of the roads should be doing the work without us telling them to do so,” said T. D. Bhutia, the president of the Janmukti Chalak Mahasangh, an affiliate of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.