| A caved-in portion of the bridge over the Nandi on way to Sevoke Bazaar. Pictures by Avijit Sarkar
July 8: The rain-swollen rivers flooded much of Jalpaiguri district today, leaving thousands marooned and spelling doom for the ailing tea industry.
Water swamped at least 15 tea gardens in the Dooars, dealing a crushing blow to the industry reeling from a slump. Several tea gardens in the hills of Darjeeling and Terai have already been affected by buffeting rains.
Teesta barrage authorities released 1,77,000 cubic centimetres of water at Gajaldoba, inundating the downstream villages.
Surging waters washed away two spurs supporting the Teesta embankment. The three other spurs of the embankment were also damaged. Irrigation department officials rushed to the spot and were monitoring the repair work. Jalpaiguri subdivisional officer Amitabh Moitra said they have restricted the entry of people on the spurs.
Divisional commissioner of Jalpaiguri Debaditya Chakraborty said the water was released because heavy rain had put enormous pressure on the Teesta barrage. “The situation is bad all over the district. It could get worse in the next 24 hours as the Met office has forecasted that the heavy rain will continue.”
He said all key government departments were put on alert.
The heavy downpour caused the Jayanti river to burst banks and flood 28-Mile village near Rajabhatkhawa. Hamiltonganj was inundated by the Panabasra.
Hasimara went under water when the Reti-Sukriti river overflowed this morning. The surging water flooded National Highway 31, backing up traffic for miles. The traffic jam showed no signs of clearing even hours after the water receded from the busy highway.
“It could be a repeat of 1998 and 1993, when the tea industry was hit hard because of heavy rain and flood. It’s just the beginning of monsoon. We shudder to think what will happen later,” said P.K. Bhattacharjee, the secretary of the Indian Tea Association’s Dooars branch.
He said some 25 hectares of plantation belonging to the Lakhipara tea estate at Binnaguri was inundated. A breach in the embankment on Reti river submerged the Riabari and Karbala tea gardens. Chuhapara and Mechpara tea gardens were cut off. The Raidak, Newland and Sankosh estates were badly affected.
“What we fear most is that incessant rain will hurt the crop. Last year, the hills saw the lowest production of 9 million kg. This year, we were okay till June,” said a planters’ association official.