Forest hurdle to highway widening

The Telegraph

Gangtok, April 25: The double-laning of NH31A, the lifeline of Sikkim, has hit a hurdle as the Bengal forest department has not yet granted permission to the Border Roads Organisation to work on the stretch that runs through Darjeeling district.

The chief engineer of BRO’s Project Swastik, Brigadier R.K. Patyal, will meet Bengal chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti in Calcutta tomorrow to discuss the NH31A project and the improvement works along the 92km stretch from Gangtok in East Sikkim to Sevoke in north Bengal.

“We are having forest clearance problems on the Bengal side and the meeting on Monday seeks to resolve this issue,” said the brigadier.

A senior forest officer of Bengal, however, said until the BRO completed a survey of the stretch, the process of granting permission could not begin. “We understand that the BRO is coming to meet the chief secretary, but nothing can be done unless the survey is completed,” the forest officer said.

He said once the survey report was on the table, it would be scrutinised and then sent to the ministry of environment and forests for the final clearance.

“We will be talking about the progress (made) so far and the pending forest clearance,” said Patyal.

Of the 92km stretch of the NH31A, 51.7km falls on the Bengal side. On the Bengal side, the survey is being done jointly by the BRO engineers and the Darjeeling district administration. The survey that had begun sometime last year has not been completed, conceded Brigadier Patyal.

“We have two responsibilities, to maintain and improve the trouble spots, and double lane the highway,” said the BRO chief engineer.

Project Swastik has identified 69 trouble spots (where there are repeated landslides) along the highway. Forty-one of them are on the Bengal side and 28 in Sikkim. In Bengal, the vulnerable spots include Lohapul, Rambhi Bazaar, 27th Mile, Lukhbir, Lepcha Jhora and Melli Bazaar. Rangpo town and 9th Mile are some of the trouble zones in Sikkim.

It is estimated that Rs 45.95 crore will be required to maintain these spots, BRO sources said. Work is in progress in 31 such hazard zones — 14 in Bengal and 17 in Sikkim.

The Swastik chief engineer also said Rs 73.9 crore had been cleared for double-laning the Sikkim side of NH31A in January — 81km from Ranipool below Gangtok to Sevoke.

Tomorrow’s meeting between the Project Swastik head and the Bengal chief secretary follows the understanding that evolved during Chakrabarti’s visit to Sikkim on February 26.

Chief secretary Chakrabarti had during his trip met his Sikkim counterpart T.T. Dorji and Brigadier Patyal to deliberate on NH31A which had been facing political disturbances. Bandh enforcers of pro and anti-Gorkhaland outfits in neighbouring Darjeeling district of Bengal in recent times often blocked the national highway, Sikkim’s only road link with the rest of the country.


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