The Telegraph
Saturday , August 7 , 2010
Since 1st March, 1999
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Two national highways paralysed Direct road link to Dooars snapped

Siliguri, Aug. 6: Traffic on NH31 has come to a halt because of a damage inflicted by landslides at two points of the highway near Sevoke, snapping direct road communication with the Dooars and the Northeast.

This is the second national highway in north Bengal to be out of order, the other being NH55 that connects Siliguri to Darjeeling.

Heavy vehicles stopped plying the route three days ago, forcing drivers to take a detour of two hours more, and an extra 20km for those destined for western Dooars — a significant distance on hilly terrain.

On Wednesday afternoon, police officials of Siliguri and Bhaktinagar alerted vehicle owners about the state of the national highway at the PCM Terminus from where buses leave for Malbazar, Samsing, Nagrakata, Hasimara, Birpara and Jaigaon — all destinations in the Dooars. They requested the transporters not to access NH31.

“Since then, our buses are plying the Gajaldoba-Odlabari route, and crossing the Teesta at the Teesta Barrage in Gajaldoba. We have come to know that the PWD has taken up some repair but no major improvement has been reported so far. For the turnaround through Gajaldoba, each bus has to travel around 20km extra,” said Uday Ghosh, the secretary of the Siliguri Dooars Minibus Owners’ Association.

Around 60 buses ply between Siliguri and the Dooars everyday, added to hundreds of trucks bound for north Bengal and the Northeast and the light vehicles. But more than half the vehicles are travelling through Jalpaiguri, which means an extra two hours. Prabhat Dey, the convener of Dooars Samannoy Committee, said: “Landslides have become regular, causing us inconvenience because of which we need to take the Gajaldoba route or travel through Jalpaiguri, which means an extra time of at least two hours.”

Officials at the state PWD department (NH Division IX) said the highway suffered the damages on the stretch between Coronation Bridge and Mongpong, where the hilly terrain ends and the road enters the Dooars. The first damaged site is 30km from Siliguri.

“At the first site, 45 metres on the side of Teesta has slid down into the river, leading to reduction in width of the highway. After a gap of 90 metres where there is no damage, there is another stretch of 62 metres where the highway has sank 1.3 metres, leaving it precarious and undulating,” said Dhrubajyoti Chakraborty, the superintendent engineer of PWD (NB Division IX). “It is natural that the road would deteriorate by the day because of the rainfall. Our men have gone to the site for repair.”

The traffic disruption has led to resentment among the residents of Dooars, who have accused the alleged laid back attitude of the Centre and state for the state of affairs.

“We have been demanding an alternative road bypassing the hills, with a bridge over Teesta. However, despite many correspondences, nothing has been done till date by any of the governments,” said Dey of the Samannoy Committee.

Environmentalists said consistent increase in traffic led to such landslides. “These roads, be it NH55 or NH31, were built several decades back by the British and since then, nothing much has been done for their preservation, except minor works of widening,” said Animesh Bose, the programme coordinator of Siliguri-based Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation.

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