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Balasun gesture a farce: civic chief
- Chief minister to commission project today, water to hill residents in 2015

Darjeeling, July 16: The district administration today said chief minister Mamata Banerjee would “commission” the much-awaited Balasun drinking water project here tomorrow although it was unlikely to be completed by the end of this year.

The Darjeeling municipality, which is responsible for the distribution water in town, termed the commissioning a “farce”.

“I never expected the chief minister to hoodwink the innocent people of Darjeeling. This is nothing but a complete farce,” said Amar Singh Rai, the chairman of the civic body.

Sources in the Darjeeling district administration today said Mamata would commission the Balasun project tomorrow.

“The chief minister will attend an official event at Chowrasta tomorrow. She will commission the Balasun drinking water scheme, announce the names of the members of the Tamang Development Board, lay a foundation stone for a safari park on the fringes of Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary and declare some development projects for the Lepcha development board,” said a source in the district administration.

Rai today said the chief minister was inaugurating the project even before it was completed. “In February this year, we decided to realign the route of the Balasun project along the Tenzing Norgay Road in Alubari so that the army land can be bypassed,” he said.

“The realignment was necessitated as the army did not give us written permission to lay the pipes through their areas. They had only verbally informed that the permission would be given but we got noting in writing,” said Rai.

The foundation of the Balasun project, which is supposed to end the town’s water woes, had been laid on February 19, 2006, by the then chief minister of Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. The project was to be completed by 2009. The state’s public health engineering department, which is implementing the scheme, cited political instability in the hills and the failure to obtain a no-objection certificate from the army to lay pipes in the military areas of Jalapahar and Kattapahar in Darjeeling as reasons for the delay.

Under the Rs 55.86-crore project, water is to be pumped from the Balasun river, 30km from Darjeeling, to the north and south lakes at Senchel (Tiger Hill).

The two lakes together have a storage capacity of 33 million gallons. Water will then be pumped to two reservoirs at the St Paul’s and one reservoir at Rockville in the town from Senchel, which is 12km from Darjeeling. The municipality will distribute water to households from these three reservoirs.

The project is being delayed as pipes are yet to be laid along the entire stretch from the Tiger Hills to the three reservoirs in Darjeeling. “Of the 5.1km distance between Tiger Hills and the St Paul reservoir, pipes have been laid only for over 1km,” said Rai.

Sources in the PHED said pipes couldn’t be laid along the entire 5.1km stretch as people were opposing the work at Alubari during the monsoon saying the area was prone to landslides. “The work is expected to resume only after September when the monsoon will subside. It will be probably completed in January-February next year,” said a source in PHED.

Rai was today bemused by the chief minister’s decision to inaugurate the project. “What is the hurry to commission a project even before it is properly completed?” asked Rai. “During the monsoon, we don’t need water from the Balasun.”

Darjeeling requires a daily supply of about 15-18 lakh gallons. During the dry period, the municipality can supply only about 7-8 lakh gallons. “If we are to sufficiently supply water to Darjeeling, we will need at least 20 lakh gallons of water on a given day,” said a municipality official.

The Balasun project has been envisaged to pump water 16 hours a day through two pumping stations. It has been estimated that the two lakes at Senchel will receive about 2 million gallons of water daily from Balasun.

When Mamata launches the project tomorrow, it is unlikely that the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leadership will be present at the event.

Rai said the municipality councillors had earlier decided to meet GTA Sabha chief executive Bimal Gurung tomorrow.

“We had decided days ago to go and meet Bimal Gurung tomorrow. It is also his birthday,” said Rai.