| The roads in the hills are in no better shape
Siliguri, Sept. 13: Sujan Sarkar knows every pothole on the 15km stretch of NH 31 between Sevoke and Siliguri.
Last week, Sarkar covered the distance on his ambulance, driving a woman with a broken leg to Siliguri.
“I had to stop the vehicle several times and the middle-aged patient was crying out in pain each time we went over a pothole,” said Sujan, wincing as he remembered the experience.
Sarkar is not the only one with bad memories of back-breaking rides on NH 31 and NH 31C, the two national highways criss-crossing though the plains of north Bengal. They remember the slow, tortuous journeys with the cars travelling at 10km-15km per hour instead of the ideal speed of 40km per hour.
The bad news for all of them is that there appears little chance of things improving soon. At least not with the public works department (PWD), which maintains most of the highways in the region, and the National Highways Authority (NHAI), which sanctions funds for the repairs, locked in a major dispute.
Pankaj Mishra, manager (technical) of NHAI, claims that the national highways would become “smooth” once the monsoon comes to an end.
“On the basis of emergency estimates made by the PWD, we have approved Rs 2 crore for maintenance of the two roads and the repair of a bridge on the Kalwa river (the bridge is part of NH 31C),” he said. “The money will arrive any time (it comes from the Centre through the NHAI) and we have asked the PWD (National Highway) to begin work, but the start has been delayed by the rains.”
But M. Alam, superintending engineer, Divisions 9 and 10 of PWD-NH, told The Telegraph that the funds approved by the NHAI are not enough.
“We had submitted an estimate of Rs 2.7 crore for repairs on the stretches covered by our divisions,” Alam said. “But they are refusing to approve our estimates and have agreed on only Rs 1 crore, with which repair is impossible.”
Until, the dispute is sorted out, people like Sujit Kumar Sarkar, a banker in Siliguri, can keep their brand new vehicles in the garage. Sujit, for example, has stopped driving his new SUV altogether.
“I just can’t risk it, the roads are so bad,” he said. “It is common for roads to be in disrepair during the rains, but this time is the worst I have seen in the last five-six years.”