Residents walk along the project site on Friday. (Suman Tamang)
Darjeeling, June 13: The hill municipality today directed the Darjeeling district magistrate to stop “construction” of a proposed hawkers’ market at Chowrasta where workers were seen digging up soil today. The administration, however, continued the work despite the verbal communication from the civic body.
Many apolitical organisations from the hills had opposed the district administration’s move to set up the hawkers’ market at Chowrasta, a project whose foundation was laid by the chief minister.
“When we were told work had begun, I called up the district magistrate requesting him to stop it as it is illegal to start any construction in the Darjeeling municipality area without a plan sanctioned by the municipality,” said Suk Bahadur Biswakarma, vice-chairman of the civic body.
When the administration overlooked the verbal request, the municipality wrote a letter to Rohini Engineering Co-operative Society Limited, the agency entrusted with the work. It was sent around 3pm today. Copies of the letter were also sent to the district magistrate, superintendent of police, Darjeeling, executive engineer, PWD (Darjeeling division), and inspector-in-charge, Darjeeling Sadar police station.
The directive signed by Biswakarma read: “It has been reported by the field staff of Darjeeling municipality engineering department that your society has taken up construction of Hawkers’ Market at C.R. Das Road, Chowrasta, Darjeeling without prior sanctioned building plan from Darjeeling municipality. This is a clear case of violation of Section 220 of the West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993. You are, therefore, directed to stop the construction work forthwith.” Section 220 states: “In any case in which the erection of a building or any other work connected therewith has been commenced or is being carried on unlawfully, the Chairman, may by written notice, require the owner or the persons carrying on such erection or unlawful work to discontinue the same forthwith, pending further proceedings as respects such unauthorised construction.”
The section empowers the chairman to take help from police or municipality employees if such directives are not followed.
Biswakarma said: “We learnt that the district magistrate, superintendent of police and other police officers were present at the site when the work started this morning.”
On May 22, senior citizens from the Morning Health Club and Federation of Societies for Environment Protection had protested after workers were seen marking trees to be felled for the proposed hawkers’ market.
Social organisations like Jagriti Sewa Samity, Sahayak Samity and Amar Singh Gram had also written to the municipality to stop the construction.
“We cannot allow work with so many objections,” said Biswakarma.
Sushan Rai, secretary of Rohini Engineering Co-operative Society, said he had been directed by the PWD to start construction with 15 labourers from 8am today. “I received the letter on June 11,” he said.
District magistrate Puneet Yadav said only a survey was being conducted at the site. Asked if digging was needed for a survey, he said: “It is needed as we need to know how deep the hard layer is. We will not fell even one tree. We will also ensure that the building height does not exceed the restriction (11.2m) and no walking space is encroached upon on CR Das Road. If we are conforming to all norms then I do not think anybody can act arbitrarily.”
Biswakarma, however, said today, the workers were removing a retention wall and digging earth at the site.