Gangtok: Villages in Dzongu in North Sikkim have been widely considered as a pristine abode where the Lepcha community of Sikkim started their habitat in the state, dating back to centuries before to the erstwhile Chogyal dynasty. However, since August 2016, after a massive landslide choked the Kanaka river at Mantam resulting in the formation of a lake, around 13 villages in Upper Dzongu have been completely cut off.
Since then, the residents of the affected villages have been struggling for proper connectivity making use of rafting boats or temporary bridges and sometimes on vehicles over a small bailey bridge when the lake level decreases during winters.
Till now, a permanent connectivity infrastructure is still elusive though works are on to lay a steel bridge near Mantam Lake to connect the isolated villages with the road network.
The High Court of Sikkim has now issued fresh directives to the state government to address the connectivity issues of the 13 villages as at present, the bailey bridge cannot be used as the river level has increased with the monsoon. The earlier semi-permanent pedestrian bridge had already been claimed by the river. The affected villagers are now solely linked to the rest of the state through a temporary cane bridge over the swelling Mantam lake/river. They then board vehicles on the other side of the lake to reach their destinations.
In its fresh directives, the High Court of Sikkim on June 20 directed the state government to ‘regularly monitor the condition of the temporary bamboo cane bridge to ensure the safety of villagers crossing the bridge and to ensure that the bridge remains functional so as to not cause any inconvenience to the affected villagers’.
The bamboo cane bridge, as and when required, is to be appropriately strengthened, directed the division bench of Chief Justice Arup Kumar Goswami and Justice Bhaskar Raj Pradhan.
A suo moto PIL had been registered in 2019 by the High Court of Sikkim over reports published by local newspapers on the bailey bridge being submerged by the lake leaving the 13 villages of Upper Dzongu marooned.
Advocate Tashi Rapten Barfungpa was appointed as the Amicus Curiae in the suo moto PIL.
While disposing of the PIL in the hearing conducted through video conferencing, the division bench directed the respondents to keep the ropeway functional in mechanized form.
The ropeway was set up by the Public Works Department in 2002 with one end near 6th Mile, Tingvong, and other at Kayem over the Kanaka river and has a load capacity of around 50 kg. It is used to ferry commodities on a steel container and is manually pulled.
“Condition of the road on the other side of Kanaka river, i.e. towards the cut-off villages i.e. Tingvong GPU, Sakyong Pentok GPU and Laven ward under shall be improved so that the villagers of the remote corners of the State have better connectivity,” directed the High Court of Sikkim.
The state government was further directed to ensure the completion of the permanent steel bridge at Upper Dzongu within the scheduled time. The 2-lane steel bridge is coming up from near 6th Mile, Tingvong connecting to Kayam side over the river at a cost of Rs 88.54 crore. It will bypass the Mantam lake and the schedule completion time is January 2021.
Amicus Curiae Tashi Rapten Barfungpa, in his field report submitted to the court, suggested temporary measures for mitigating the suffering of the villagers on the other side of Mantam lake and river. Since the conditions of roads are not only pathetic but dangerous and are a serious concern voiced by the majority of the villagers, there is a dire need for immediately improving the road condition on both sides of the river, he suggested.
The state respondent, in turn, submitted to the court that the temporary restoration of the road on the left bank of the river will be taken up after completion of the temporary bridge which is under construction.
Regarding the permanent bridge, the state government had submitted in February that excavation in foundation work for both abutments at Tingvong and Kayam’s side has been completed. It also submitted the fabrication of steel bridge parts had been completed at the workshop and transportation and stacking at the worksite is under progress and stacking of reinforcing bars had been completed.
The bridge will be completed within the scheduled time, January 2021, the state submitted to the court.
Following the Mantam slide in August 2016, the High Court of Sikkim had taken up a suo moto PIL the same year for restoration and relief works for the affected 13 villages of Upper Dzongu. Based on the court directives, several restoration and relief works have been conducted over the years along with sanctioning of a permanent bridge. The PIL was disposed of in June 2018.
The High Court of Sikkim took up a fresh suo moto PIL after local newspapers reported about the bailey bridge at Kanaka river being submerged last summer leaving the 13 villages again marooned.