The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Road repair bumps into funds battle
- Two weeks too few for NH31C

Siliguri, Sept. 18: Almost a fortnight has passed since a stretch of NH31C was washed away and the two agencies responsible for maintaining the highway are still locked in a blamegame over the amount required for the repair.

The raging Leesh had gobbled up about 100 metres of the road that connects the Dooars to Siliguri on September 3. The spot, Washabarie, is between Sevoke and Bagrakote, nearly 35km from Siliguri.

“For the past 13 days, things have not improved,” said Dilip Basak, an electrical goods shop owner of Oodlabari. “We have to take a detour now. First we go back to Jalpaiguri and then change vehicles to reach Siliguri. This means an extra time of more than an hour. Whereas, NH31C was a direct route.”

For people like Basak, the detour is almost 90km. The distance between Oodlabari and Siliguri is 45 km but because of the affected stretch, residents of the area have to come to Jalpaiguri, which is further away from Siliguri than Oodlabari.

While the public works department (PWD) has calculated Rs 2 crore or so as the expense for repairing the road, the NHAI has refused to sanction the amount as it feels the job can be done for Rs 1 crore. “Our engineers had pegged the cost at Rs 1.8 crore. Since the NHAI was reluctant to part with the amount, we have asked them to take up the task,” said Manohar Tirkey, the minister of state for PWD.

The NHAI, on the other hand, has assured that work is expected to start in two-three days’ time. R.P. Singh, the project director of the NHAI in Siliguri, said: “As we need to do it ourselves now, we have to take up a fresh project.”

Thousands of people travel to Siliguri from the Dooars everyday. “Nowadays we are coming by the two passenger trains that ply between Siliguri and Alipurduar. The other option is to reach Washabarie, cross the affected area by foot, and board a bus on the other side. Buses plying under this arrangement are overcharging,” said Ramesh Sikdar, a bank employee in Siliguri and a resident of Malbazar.

The usual fare from Malbazar to Washabarie is Rs 6. But Sikdar and some daily passengers alleged that they are now shelling out Rs 10. “Again, though the fare from Washabarie to Siliguri is Rs 15, we are paying Rs 20 now,” said Sikdar.

Balbir Singh Jass, the vice-president of the Nature and Adventure Society in Oodlabari, pointed to a problem of another kind.

“At least 1,000-1,200 patients from the Dooars travel to Siliguri every week for treatment,” said Jass whose organisation is a member of the subdivisional patient welfare committee in Malbazar. “Some patients come to Siliguri through Jalpaiguri, paying double the ambulance fare.” According to Jass, ambulances to Siliguri from the Dooars are now charging Rs 1,000-Rs 1,200 as against the earlier Rs 400-Rs 600.

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