Members of the Morning Health Club plant saplings on the Chowrasta slope in Darjeeling on Thursday where contractors had tried to fell two trees to make way for the hawkers’ market. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, June 5: A group of morning joggers today planted saplings given by the GTA at the spot at Chowrasta where Mamata Banerjee had planned a market complex for hawkers.
The slope in the Chowrasta area, which is Darjeeling’s main promenade, was one of the several spots where the Morning Health Club members put 310 sapling on World Environment Day.
On May 22, some hill residents had shooed away two men hired by contractors to mark two trees that were to be cut to make way for the hawkers’ market.
The Chowrasta, which includes the Mall, is a place where tourists and local people come for walks in Darjeeling.
Like other hill towns such as Shimla, the Darjeeling Mall is its heart. It has leafy trees and benches for people to sit and chat. As it is picturesque, the spot is also a favourite for film shoots.
The hawkers’ market is one of Mamata’s pet projects for Darjeeling.
The Darjeeling municipality had removed hawkers from Nehru Road — the stretch running from the eatery Keventers’ to Chowrasta — in 2012.
The municipality had constructed a hawkers’ shed on another stretch of road that leads towards Hotel Alice Villa from Chowrasta but since the shed could not accommodate all the 347 hawkers who had been removed in 2012, they had refused to take the shops in the shed and put up stalls on the road instead.
The Darjeeling municipality’s inability to accommodate all the hawkers at the shed led to strain in relations between them and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which runs the civic body.
In this backdrop, the state government took up the initiative to set up the hawkers’ market at Chowrasta.
It is not clear if the GTA, which gave the saplings to the joggers, told them to plant it on the very slope where the market is planned to come up.
Darjeeling district magistrate Puneet Yadav said the land belonged to the district collectorate. He said neither the joggers, nor the GTA, had taken permission to plant the saplings, “which could be regarded as trespass”.
He said the district administration would go ahead with the project of making the hawkers’ market at Chowrasta but no trees would be cut.
To uproot a tree from a land that belongs to the government, one has to take permission from the land and land reforms department.
The punishment for uprooting a tree without permission is six months’ imprisonment and a fine. It is a bailable offence.
“Chowrasta is a place where we need to plant trees,” said Tshering Dorjee Bhutia, the president of the Morning Heath Club that planted the saplings.
The club members also planted a maple sapling as a maple tree had been earlier felled when the then Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council had renovated the J.B. Thapa Park at Chowrasta.
“A maple tree had been felled during Subash Ghisingh’s time. Today, we planted a sapling of the maple tree in the same area,” Bhutia said.
The Morning Health Club members, some of who had protested on May 22 to stop felling trees, today said they would not allow the hawkers’ market to come up at Chowrasta. “This is not a place for a concrete structure and we will continue to oppose the move aimed at spoiling the beauty of Chowrasta,” said Bhutia.
The hawkers’ market is one of chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s pet projects for Darjeeling and she had also laid the foundation stone for the market complex when she visited Darjeeling on January 23 this year.
In the past, some residents of Darjeeling have opposed construction of private buildings in some areas which were seen to be obstructing the view from the Chowrasta.
Amar Singh Rai, the chairman of Darjeeling municipality had earlier said the district administration had not even taken them into confidence before zeroing on the location at Chowrasta.
However, the municipality, which needs to clear the market’s building plan has already stated that it would not give permission to construct the market complex at the site identified by the district administration.
Four die in accident
Four people from Teesta-Valley, around 40km from Darjeeling died when the vehicle they were travelling in, skidded off the road and fell about 500ft below.
“The accident took place around 8.30pm on Wednesday night. A group of seven people were returning from Rambhi Khola where they had gone for fishing,” said a police source.