Saturday, September 13, 2014

Rough Roads, Good Neighbourhoods

Pic2:  Lumsey
Pic3: Penlong:
Road users across the State are rising up to the challenge of bad road conditions in their respective localities by coming together to initiate road repair projects. While this is laudable it also puts a curious question mark on the responsibility of the concerned department – the people’s initiative obviously coming because the concerned agency is dragging its feet. Locals have shown initiative and enterprise in various places in and around Gangtok like Ranka, Penlong, Arithang, DC Court and Lumsey.
With the concerned department failing to respond to the demand for repair of these arterial roads, residents, community organizations and taxi driver associations of such affected areas are increasingly taking it upon themselves to take up repairs instead of endlessly waiting or perpetually complaining.
Last Thursday for instance, the Arithang local taxi drivers association and residents of the area repaired around one and a half kilometer of road from Hotel Shere Punjab to Arithang school.
“There are around 110 taxis that ply in and around the area and use the road regularly, and then there are private vehicles too. The road condition here was so bad that we had to carry out repair works immediately. Since we had done this in the past as well, we decided that all of us would pitch in some money and manpower to get the road fixed since this is our bread and butter,” states Ravi Thapa of Arithang local taxi drivers association.
He informs that this year instead of celebrating Vishwakarma Puja, all the drivers decided that they use the funds collected to repair the roads instead. He states that the local community also helped in the initiative by donating materials and manpower for the works that lasted for two days.
A similar initiative was also undertaken a few months ago by the local taxi drivers associations who ply their vehicles through Sichey to DC Court. There were stretches along this route such as the one near Thumi Sambotha School which were proving to be a big headache for the taxi drivers and commuters.
More recently, residents of Lumsey in Tadong and members of the Naya Koseli Samaj also worked long hours last week to get a road stretch towards the government school fixed since the inconvenience caused due to the bad road condition was not just limited to vehicles.
“The road was in such a bad condition that even pedestrians were facing huge problems. School children had to negotiate the heavy slush along the road which was turning out to be a major inconvenience. Since the road is a major thoroughfare for every resident living in the area, we decided that we should do something about it,” states a resident of Lumsey who is also member of the committee of various social organizations here that joined hands to take on the endeavor.
The Ranka road stretch is also in such a bad condition that the local taxi drivers and the general public of the area decided that some major sections where the road condition was turning out to be dangerous should be repaired immediately.
The local residents and taxi drivers instead of waiting for the concerned authorities to act upon their demand to repair the roads (that was last done when former President Pratibha Patil visited Sikkim) decided that a community approach should be taken up and those trouble spots which were proving difficult for vehicular movement at least be made safe and negotiable.
“This was not only the demand of the local residents but also the thousands of tourists who come visiting each season. With each passing day the road condition was getting so bad that vehicles were even getting stuck in the heavy slush, which is why the concerned locals and taxi drivers decided that they would do their bit to make the road safer,” states Yudha Singh, President, ICFAI stand, Lall Bazaar.  
This approach to tackle the condition of suburban roads through community participation would be incomplete without mentioning the initiative taken up by the Kabi-Tingda MLA, Ugen Nedup, and the residents of Penlong who decided that they repair the road stretch from Penlong to Dikchu which had been blocked since the 1990s.
In what can be called a big achievement for local residents and an exemplary community approach to deal with the deplorable road conditions in their locality, the residents, the MLA and his core group with the help of power developers, Sneha Kinetic, opened the road for vehicular traffic after a hiatus of almost three decades.
“The government always waits for the estimates to be made high so that a major tender can be floated, however within this span, the local community has to face the brunt of the negligence of the concerned department and has to deal with the inconvenience. Thus it was decided that we would do this work on our own,” states the MLA.
He also mentions that the local community completed the work and made the roads negotiable for jeeps, which was a big achievement since a community had risen above their dependence on the government department.
“The local community had demanded this road to be repaired for a long long time now, until we had had enough and we decided that we do it ourselves. With the manpower of the locals, equipment from the power project and finances collected through small donations, we started and completed the work in about a week, something that would have taken the government months and required finances that would cross Rs 50 lakhs,” stated the MLA.
These are new initiatives in Sikkim, but community participation and effort has only limited durability when it comes to repairs and such developments should be seen as clear signals to the concerned agencies to take quicker decisions and become more responsive to the people’s woes. These band-aid efforts should be received as embarrassing signals for those in charge to deliver on their responsibilities.

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