Disagreement over construction of Hawkers’ Market in Chowrasta

Darjeeling: Disagreement over the construction of a Hawkers’ Market at Chowrastha continues to rage on between the district administration and the Darjeeling municipality including residents.

At the proposed site for the hawkers' market in the Chowrasta area
At the proposed site for the hawkers’ market
in the Chowrasta area

The Darjeeling district administration is keen to ensure Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s pet project – a hawkers’ market materialises at the Chowrastha area. However, townsfolk along with NGOs and the civic body are against the construction saying it would destroy the ambience of one of the most iconic promenades of the hills.

The Aastha Hawkers’ Market was envisaged by the chief minister and she had even led the foundation stone for the complex on January 23 of this year. However, on May 22, when workers of the Rohini Engineering Cooperative Society Limited (RECSL), which has been awarded the project, wanted to fell a couple of trees that were obstructing the construction work, they were stopped by members of the Morning Health Club (MHC) and the Federation of Societies for Environment Protection (FOSEP) including locals.

The Darjeeling municipality too is opposed to the construction and claims the district administration has not sought permission. “We have neither been taken into confidence nor has any permission for the construction been taken from us. The law is for everyone to follow including the district administration,” said Sukh Bahadur Biswakarma, the municipality vice chairman.

There was commotion this morning when RECSL workers started digging the designated area on CR Das Road, just below to Chowrastha. Residents including municipality officials tried to convince the workers it was illegal to start work at the spot as permission has not been sought. But the district administration used police assistance to ensure the digging work continued.

“The land belongs to the administration but the area falls under the municipality. There is no layout plan or proposal for construction in the Chowrastha area which makes the construction illegal. More importantly, we are answerable to the people who are opposed to any sort of construction there,” said the vice-chairman.

When reminded the chief minister herself had laid the foundation stone, Biswakarma said, “Yes, that is true, but we were never consulted on the proposed hawkers’ market.”

When asked about the ongoing controversy, Darjeeling district magistrate Puneet Yadav said no construction was being carried out and only samples were being taken for soil testing.

“We were only taking samples for soil testing which is a must before any construction. We will definitely submit a layout plan and a formal proposal after we receive the reports of the test,” he said.

At the same time, the DM asserted the issue is being blown out of proportion. He said, “There are several constructions in and around Chowrastha and we are committed to abide by all the rules and norms for building constructions. But it is sad the issue is being made big for nothing.”

The original motive for the hawkers’ market was to relocate more than 100 hawkers who have been evicted from Nehru Road, the stretch from Keventer’s to Chowrastha, in August of last year by the civic body as part of a beautification plan. These hawkers are presently trading from temporary stalls set up below Chowrastha.

Source: EOI

Darjeeling, June 13: The hill municipality today directed the Darjeeling district magistrate to stop “construction” of a proposed hawkers’ market at Chowrasta where workers were seen digging up soil today. The administration, however, continued the work despite the verbal communication from the civic body.

Residents walk along the project site on Friday. (Suman Tamang)
Residents walk along the project site on Friday. (Suman Tamang)

Many apolitical organisations from the hills had opposed the district administration’s move to set up the hawkers’ market at Chowrasta, a project whose foundation was laid by the chief minister.

“When we were told work had begun, I called up the district magistrate requesting him to stop it as it is illegal to start any construction in the Darjeeling municipality area without a plan sanctioned by the municipality,” said Suk Bahadur Biswakarma, vice-chairman of the civic body.

When the administration overlooked the verbal request, the municipality wrote a letter to Rohini Engineering Co-operative Society Limited, the agency entrusted with the work. It was sent around 3pm today. Copies of the letter were also sent to the district magistrate, superintendent of police, Darjeeling, executive engineer, PWD (Darjeeling division), and inspector-in-charge, Darjeeling Sadar police station.

The directive signed by Biswakarma read: “It has been reported by the field staff of Darjeeling municipality engineering department that your society has taken up construction of Hawkers’ Market at C.R. Das Road, Chowrasta, Darjeeling without prior sanctioned building plan from Darjeeling municipality. This is a clear case of violation of Section 220 of the West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993. You are, therefore, directed to stop the construction work forthwith.” Section 220 states: “In any case in which the erection of a building or any other work connected therewith has been commenced or is being carried on unlawfully, the Chairman, may by written notice, require the owner or the persons carrying on such erection or unlawful work to discontinue the same forthwith, pending further proceedings as respects such unauthorised construction.”

The section empowers the chairman to take help from police or municipality employees if such directives are not followed.

Biswakarma said: “We learnt that the district magistrate, superintendent of police and other police officers were present at the site when the work started this morning.”

On May 22, senior citizens from the Morning Health Club and Federation of Societies for Environment Protection had protested after workers were seen marking trees to be felled for the proposed hawkers’ market.

Social organisations like Jagriti Sewa Samity, Sahayak Samity and Amar Singh Gram had also written to the municipality to stop the construction.

“We cannot allow work with so many objections,” said Biswakarma.

Sushan Rai, secretary of Rohini Engineering Co-operative Society, said he had been directed by the PWD to start construction with 15 labourers from 8am today. “I received the letter on June 11,” he said.

District magistrate Puneet Yadav said only a survey was being conducted at the site. Asked if digging was needed for a survey, he said: “It is needed as we need to know how deep the hard layer is. We will not fell even one tree. We will also ensure that the building height does not exceed the restriction (11.2m) and no walking space is encroached upon on CR Das Road. If we are conforming to all norms then I do not think anybody can act arbitrarily.”

Biswakarma, however, said today, the workers were removing a retention wall and digging earth at the site.

Source  Telegraph:

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