The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Siliguri trees on chopping block

Siliguri, Jan. 4: The 122 trees on the traffic snarl-plagued stretch of Sevoke Road lost by a huge margin to the votaries of widening, but the true winner today was the referendum.

A little more that 3,000 of the 20,000 voters in four wards that will be affected by the decision turned up at the P.C. Mittal Memorial Bus Terminus from 9 am to express their opinion. The verdict: 2,754 votes in favour of felling the trees to only 322 against.

The small group of naysayers felt that felling the trees to ease traffic bottlenecks is not right in view of increasing environmental problems.

Corporation officials were surprised at the lukewarm response. “Traffic jams are a regular phenomenon on that stretch, especially during the morning rush hours, and widening the road is an absolute necessity,” on official said.

Deputy mayor Harisadhan Ghosh pegged the poor turnout to lack of convenience. “The poor turnout was perhaps because voting was held at a centralised place. People from far-flung places did not come to vote.”

But the first-of-its-kind referendum found favour among many. Siliguri MLA and urban affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya said: “To decide on civic issues through the medium of ballots is something unique. In view of the dispute over the felling of trees, I had requested the Siliguri Corporation authorities to go in for voting. We will contemplate similar experiments in other situations as well.”

Social observers, too, feel that the “Siliguri experiment” could be emulated elsewhere in the state to resolve civic disputes.

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