Long & hard trek for officers bound for hill booths

The Telegraph
RAJEEV RAVIDAS

Kalimpong, April 28: Dipak Chhetri and three polling officials bound for Makum village will have to stretch their muscles much more than others who have been assigned election duties.

Having arrived here today after a two-hour drive from Darjeeling, Chhetri, who is the presiding officer of the polling booth at 22/55-Makum Prathamik Pathsala, was busy sorting out papers along with B.B. Sherpa, Nabin Sherpa and Pasang Sherpa before proceeding to Makum, 105km away.

Team Chhetri will have to travel by car for 95km — only a little over half the distance is metalled road — and walk 10km more to reach the polling booth, which will also double up as their lodge.

Even though porters will be on hand to carry their luggage, once in Makum, they will have to do without electricity.

When The Telegraph caught up with the team at the subdivisional office here, they did not complain about their impending travel travails.

“Since we all are residents of the hills, the walk should not be a problem at all. For other things, we will rely on the sector officer (for Makum, it is Santosh Rai),” said Chhetri, as his mates, including 53-year-old Sherpa, nodded in agreement.

Satish Khaling, who is one of the officials engaged for the polling station at 22/51 Lower Dong Prathamik Pathsala in Samthar gram panchayat, too, made light of the six-and-a-half journey his team was about to embark on.

“We are very happy to take part in this democratic exercise,” said Khaling.

His team, which is headed by Prakash Rai, will have travel 93km in a car and walk for 10 more kilometres. “Both physically and mentally, we are prepared to undertake this task. It is our job. And we have to do it,” said Rai.

Like Makum, Lower Dong, too, does not have electricity, and water is in short supply in the village.

It is not just officials who have to traverse miles on polling day; some people in the hinterland, too, will have to walk a fair distance to exercise their franchise.

The 1000-odd people of Rongpoh forest/Mangchu-Tarkhola village will have to trek about 8km to the nearest polling station to cast their votes.

For the people of Upper Burmaik and Echhey forest villages, a 6km walk will take them to the nearest polling station.

“We don’t mind the walk since we are used to it. The old and the infirm will have some problems, but given the excitement surrounding the election, they, too, will take the walk in their stride,” said Sangay Lama, a villager.

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