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Since 1st March, 1999
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Bridge horror haunts junior public works minister

Siliguri, April 21: Bridges, around eight of them, have emerged as key factors in determining candidates’ fate in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar parliamentary seats.

Three of the eight bridges are makeshift structures (made of sandbags and boulders) and form part of NH31, which connects Siliguri to Assam. The fourth is a Bailey bridge while the rest are wooden structures.

The electorate’s resentment has been intensified as Manohar Tirkey, the junior minister in charge of public works — the department primarily responsible for maintenance of the roads and bridges — has been fielded by the RSP as its candidate for Alipurduar.

“He (Tirkey) seems to have forgotten his failure to reconstruct these bridges which have become nightmares of any driver on the Dhupguri-Gayerkata-Birpara route,” said Rajesh Dutta, a Birpara resident who frequents Jalpaiguri through the route. “Despite being a people’s representative (MLA) from the district, he did not do anything to repair these bridges all these years.”

The list includes bridges over rivers Sonakhali, Angrabhasa, Kalua and Dimdima located between Dhupguri and Birpara.

“During rainy season, water level rises in these rivers, and many times, flows over the diversions. Vehicles have to either wait for the water to recede or take a risk,” said Abdul Hussain, a shopowner in Gayerkata, said.

Not only daily commuters, but those travelling in long distance buses — all road transport to the Northeast, Bhutan and the Dooars take this national highway — are equally frustrated. Added to these are garden vehicles carrying tea and children to schools.

“How can four bridges, all located on the national highway, remain abandoned over years? What is the state government doing?” asked Aloke Narjinari, a trader from Dhubri who often goes to Siliguri and Calcutta by this routed. Similar is the condition on the Falakata-Sonapur route, which connects Alipurduar and Cooch Behar to Jalpaiguri.

“There are four wooden bridges over streams between Falakata and Siltorsha. The Siltorsha bridge was inaugurated by the chief minister on December 2002 and he had promised that these wooden bridges would be upgraded to concrete ones,” said Harendra Roy of Falakata.

“Apart from occasional replacement of the wooden planks, nothing has changed,” he added.

Congress leaders have been quick to cash in on this issue. “When a minister cannot repair four bridges over years, where is the guarantee that he will do that after he becomes an MP,” said Mannalal Jain, a Congress leader from Birpara.

Tirkey, however, has his own set of reasons (for not being able to perform). “We have received sanctions for the bridge over the Dimdima and will soon get funds for the Kalua. It is because of the delay in sanction of funds from the Centre that we could not start the work,” he said.

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