Gangtok: The High Court of Sikkim has set a ‘rigid timeline’ of December 31, 2022, “and not later than January 31, 2023,” for the concerned authorities to complete repairs and restoration on National Highway 10.

NH 10 covers the entire stretch of the arterial road between Sevoke in West Bengal and Ranipool in East Sikkim. The court observed the progress of road repair work on NH 10 to be “extremely tardy” despite it serving as lifeline for those residing in Sikkim.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Biswanath Somadder and Justice Meenakshi Madan Rai, in the last court order on August 16, in the Suo Moto Case for Writ Petition PIL 18 of 2010, had directed the concerned authorities to conduct a joint inspection of the road damage on NH 10.

The deplorable state of National Highway 10

Following the report submitted after the joint inspection, the High Court on September 6 observed, “We are of the view that progress of road repair work, especially between Sevoke (West Bengal) and Rangpo (Sikkim) has been extremely tardy and the time has come for this court to set a rigid timeline in order to ensure that not only the above stretch, but the entire stretch of the arterial road between Sevoke (West Bengal) and Ranipool (Sikkim) — being the lifeline for those residing in Sikkim — is fully repaired and restored by the concerned authorities without citing any further excuse whatsoever, preferably within 31st December, 2022, but not later than 31st January, 2023”.

The court will give no option and issue appropriate action against non-compliance. It said, “We are making it clear that in the event the above timeline is not adhered to by any of the concerned authorities responsible for repairing and restoring the arterial road between the entire stretch as mentioned hereinabove, this court will have no option but to issue appropriate directions for fixing responsibility upon those who are responsible for non-compliance, which will result in exemplary punitive action being taken against them in the strictest manner possible.”

A joint inspection was conducted on August 20 by Amicus Curiae Tashi Rapden Barfungpa, along with the representatives from IRCON International Limited, National Hydro Electric Power Corporation Pvt Ltd (NHPC), officials from the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), and engineers from the National Highway Division, West Bengal.

Two documents were submitted before the court – one affidavit was filed on behalf of IRCON International Limited, and another was the report of the Amicus curiae, both filed on September 5.

The report submitted by Barphungpa mentions, “After conducting a thorough inspection of the road damage at the valley side at 22.10 km, 23.15. km, 24.60 km, 24.75 km, and 26.40 km of the National Highway, a detailed discussion was held at the office of the Respondent No 11 located at the Teesta Low Dam-III Power Station.”

Since the actual cause of the damage cannot be ascertained till such time the water level is brought down, some decisions were taken and agreed upon. Among them, it was also decided that the on-going repair work along the NH damaged by IRCON which is on the verge of being completed shall be inspected by the representatives of PWD, West Bengal, once the same is completed in-order to check and ensure that repair work executed is as per the required quality and standard.

In its submission to the court, the IRCON International Limited stated that it is determined to carry out the work in the best way possible, and as per the mandated specifications, so that the quality of the NH 10 will be maintained. The agency also undertook to continue maintaining stretches of the NH adjacent to the approach roads.

In his submission, Barfungpa told the court that at present, the conditions of the National Highway from Ranipool till Rangpo in Sikkim is as bad as the stretch across the border towards Siliguri, West Bengal, both needing immediate attention.

Apart from the two major trouble spots at Martam Slide and Kapoor More, where the work over the years has seen very little progress, the slide at 20th Mile between Singtam and Rangpo too has become a regular trouble spot.

The bench also directed Barfungpa to monitor the progress of the repair work and keep the court informed at regular intervals.

The matter is listed for a hearing on October 20. During the hearing, the Amicus curiae will be informing the High Court as to how much progress is being made by the concerned authorities pursuant to the directives issued.

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