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Mamata stays off bumpy highway
Land effect on tour schedule

Cooch Behar, Dec. 26: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee today cancelled a scheduled programme in Jalpaiguri apparently to avoid taking the potholed NH31D, for whose widening and repair her government has refused to acquire land.

Mamata, who was to lay the foundation stone of a private hospital in Jalpaiguri’s Fulbari on her way to Cooch Behar, instead took a much longer route through the Dooars from Bagdogra airport, where she landed this afternoon. The private hospital — Maharaja Agrasen Research and Charitable Hospital — is located off NH31D near Siliguri.

The chief minister’s name was mentioned in the invitation cards.

North Bengal development minister and Trinamul leader Gautam Deb, however, said the chief minister’s office turned down the invitation but did not mention the reason.

“Tentatively, it had been decided that she would lay the foundation stone of the hospital but when her final itinerary was being drawn up, the chief minister’s office said she would not enter Siliguri and Jalpaiguri. It was decided that the chief minister would head straight for the Dooars after landing at Bagdogra,” Deb told The Telegraph.

“The condition of the road is very bad. So we took the Dooars route. The chief minister reached Cooch Behar around 8pm,” he added.

Sources close to Mamata said she was upset with the bad condition of north Bengal roads.

“She did not want to take NH31D as it is an extremely painful journey. She has been trying to get the repair work started but nothing has moved so far,” a close aide of the chief minister said.

The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has told the state government that land needs to be acquired for the four-laning of the highway. The NHAI has said only repair work cannot be carried out as the highway has to be widened. However, the state government, which follows a hands-off land policy, has told the NHAI that it would not carry out any acquisition for this purpose.

The Telegraph had reported on November 26 that the entire 155km stretch of NH31D, which connects Jalpaiguri to Sonapur in Alipurduar, needed urgent repair.

The distance between Bagdogra and Cooch Behar while travelling on NH31D is 151km. It should take three hours to traverse the distance but because of the bad condition of the road, it takes around four-and-a-half hours.

Mamata’s convoy passed through Malbazar, Chalsa, Nagrakata, Banarhat, Binnaguri, Birpara and Falakata, a 35km detour, to reach Cooch Behar.

“The condition of NH31D is so bad that it takes more than four hours to reach Cooch Behar,” said a Siliguri Trinamul leader who followed the chief minister’s convoy.

Mamata had complained to NHAI officials after taking a bumpy ride on NH31D during her visit to Jalpaiguri in July. She had asked her party workers to hold demonstrations against NHAI.

The condition of the highway worsened after January 1, when restrictions were imposed on vehicles taking Coronation Bridge as it developed a crack. Heavy vehicles started taking NH31D, which damaged the highway further.

“The highway’s condition is not fit for heavy vehicles. Patchwork would not help,” a senior official in Jalpaiguri said.

The chief minister had announced a plane service between Calcutta and Cooch Behar in July last year but it was stopped after a month as there were not too many passengers despite subsidised fares.