The Jalpaiguri district administration and the police have issued restrictions to prevent people from getting into the Teesta as arms and ammunition belonging to the army that had been swept away in the Sikkim flash flood on October 4 are still stuck in the river bed.
However, such restrictions have not been able to dissuade Sarat Mondal, a resident of Paharpur on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri town, and some others from wading into the river to collect timber logs, twigs and firewood.
“We are not going in the middle of the river but collecting the wood from the sides. We understand that there is a risk but this is how we earn a living,” Mondal said.
After the flash flood, the state governments of Sikkim and Bengal had warned people about the presence of mortar shells and detonators in the river. A few residents of Kranti block of Jalpaiguri district had retrieved such items from the river. An explosion that took place when one of them tried to break open a mortar shell had killed a minor boy and injured others.
During a search operation along the river, the army has seized and defused a number of ammunition and explosives. “Even then there is a risk as the river brought down heaps of debris, which had piled on its bed. There is every chance that some more explosives are buried underneath. It is dangerous to walk into the river,” said an administrative official.
He pointed out that the same concern had prompted the administration to deny permission for mining of sand, stones and pebbles from the Teesta.
A section of residents dwelling near the riverbank, however, are unperturbed. They said logs are sold for furniture, stalks and roots are used to make decorative items while twigs are sold as firewood.
“There is a steady market for these items. For decades, we have been making a living by selling these items after collecting them from the river. What else can we do?” said Siuli Das, a resident of Paharpur.
On Sunday, heaps of wooden logs were found in the riverbank near the Teesta bridge along NH27 on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri.
Some people have been spotted in areas near Jubilee Park in Jalpaiguri carrying out agricultural work on the dry river bed.
Police officers said they are continuing the search operations with the army to find explosives and ammunition from the Teesta and its banks.
“We have put up sign boards so that people don’t get into the river. If anyone violates it, we will be forced to take steps,” said a police officer.
Sikkim governor Lakshman Prasad Acharya visited Lachen in Mangan district in the northern part of the Himalayan state on Sunday. He was welcomed by senior army officials and Dzumsa representatives in Lachen.
Acharya, who celebrated Diwali with the army, recognised its vital role in safeguarding the nation. He also interacted with the army personnel in Lachen, along with prominent residents of the area and representatives of Dzumsa (a council of villagers).
The state and Centre are working to stabilise flood-hit areas of Mangan, he said. Acharya went to the Bardang army camp in Sikkim and condoled the families of soldiers who died in the flash flood.