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regular-article-logo Sunday, 25 February 2024

Cry for urban tag in Siliguri rural elections

The Siliguri sub-division has a 47-ward civic body — the Siliguri Municipal Corporation — and the four blocks of Matigara, Naxalbari, Kharibari and Phansidewa

Avijit Sinha And Bireswar Banerjee Siliguri Published 25.06.22, 03:09 AM
Minister and Trinamul leader Aroop Biswas campaigns for the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad polls on Friday

Minister and Trinamul leader Aroop Biswas campaigns for the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad polls on Friday Passang Yolmo

The three-tier elections to the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad (SMP) will be held in the rural areas of the Siliguri sub-division on Sunday. However, the main demand of many voters is urban status for their area.

Over the past few years, residents of most areas of the Matigara block, which is closest to the Siliguri civic area, have time and again demanded that a separate municipality be constituted covering their region. Such demands have also been raised by residents of portions of Naxalbari block like Bagdogra and its surrounding areas.

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“If one visits these areas, he will see that people here are deprived of even basic civic services such as drinking water supply, proper roads, street lights and a sewage system. The Left Front, which has been in power at the SMP for decades, has failed to provide these services to the residents. That is why the demand for a new civic body has been raised in these areas,” said Vedabrata Datta, the spokesperson of the Trinamul Congress’s Darjeeling (plains) district committee.

The Siliguri sub-division has a 47-ward civic body — the Siliguri Municipal Corporation — and the four blocks of Matigara, Naxalbari, Kharibari and Phansidewa.

In Matigara and some areas of Naxalbari block, which are just outside the civic area, there has been rapid urbanisation in the past one-and-a-half decades. Hundreds of multi-storied apartments and residential and commercial blocks have come up in these areas, which include Uttarayon and Uttora, two prominent townships.

Also, a number of important establishments like Bagdogra airport, North Bengal University, North Bengal Medical College and Hospital, IT parks and government offices are located in these rural areas.

“Even shopping malls like City Centre and a number of private nursing homes, hotels and educational institutions have come up in Matigara, which is officially a village. Considering the rate of urbanisation, it is not possible for any panchayat to provide proper civic services in these places. That is why the demand to remove the rural tag of these areas and officially announce these as urban pockets through the constitution of a civic body,” said Soumen Nag, a social researcher based in Siliguri.

From 1989, when the SMP was formed, to 2020, when the tenure of the last elected board ended, the Left has continuously been in power at the rural body.

As the demand has been reasserted ahead of the SMP polls, political parties have come up with assurances for voters.

Anandamay Barman, the BJP MLA of the Matigara-Naxalbari Assembly seat, said he had raised the issue in the Assembly. “We want a separate municipality for Matigara and Bagdogra. A number of voters spoke about it during the campaign. The state government has to take a decision on the issue,” he said.

In 2020, the then Left board of the SMP had adopted a resolution and forwarded it to the state government, proposing that two municipalities be formed in Matigara and Bagdogra.

“If semi-urban areas like Maynaguri, Falakata, Mekhliganj and Dhupguri can be municipalities, there is no reason why Matigara and Bagdogra should not be granted a similar status. The state should immediately take steps,” said Shankar Malakar, the Darjeeling district Congress president.

Veteran CPM leader Asok Bhattacharya, who campaigned for the SMP polls, spoke on similar lines. “There have been significant changes in peoples’ occupation in Matigara and adjoining areas. They are hardly any more into farming and instead making a living from services and other trades. It has become a completely urban area but lacks official recognition. It is but natural that the residents are coming up with such a demand,” he said.

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