VIVEK CHHETRI & RAJEEV RAVIDAS
Darjeeling/Kalimpong, Aug. 31: Television images of a woman trying to wade across the rising Kosi river in north Bihar with a baby girl strapped on her back have urged a group of rafters from the Darjeeling hills to plan a voluntary rescue mission to the flooded region.
The 100-member Gorkhaland Rescue Team, as it has been named, will leave tomorrow. The members, who earn their living by taking tourists on white water rafting on the Teesta and the Rangit, have decided to forgo their business for 11 days for a greater cause.
“When we saw the images (of the mother and daughter) on TV, we could not sit back and watch any longer. Our rafters will leave for Bihar on Monday,” said Prakash Bomzom, the coordinator of the mission and a resident of the Teesta area, about 40km from Darjeeling.
“We think we will be able to help because we have been rescuing people every year from the Teesta when there are accidents,” Jiden Sherpa, the vice president of the Teesta Rangit Rafting Association. National Highway 31A, which connects Bengal to Sikkim, runs along the Teesta and whenever cars skid off the road and plunge into the river, the rafters are pressed into service for search and rescue.
The team will take 20-25 rafts to Bihar and have collected Rs 50,000 from people living along NH31A. The rafts can be deflated and transported on the roof of a bus.
“The Gorkha Janmukti Highway Block Committee is supporting the team along with associations like the Lions Club of Kalimpong,” said Bomzom. The Committee is a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha unit dealing with problems of people living along highways in the hills.
The Morcha, too, will collect donations from September 2 to 9 to help the flood victims.