The cable cars in Darjeeling. Picture by Suman Tamang
Vivek Chhetri and Kinsuk Basu, TT, Darjeeling, May 28: The Darjeeling district magistrate today ordered an indefinite suspension of ropeway rides, a major tourist attraction in the hills, because of a snag in the cable system.
This is the peak tourist season and draws around 60 per cent of the hills’ average annual inflow of 3.5 lakh visitors.
The Darjeeling Rangeet Valley Ropeway is a joint venture between the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation and Conveyor and Ropeway Services Pvt Ltd. The corporation has leased out the cable car service to the private firm, which is responsible for maintenance, sources said.
Anurag Srivastava, the Darjeeling district magistrate, said: “The ropeway service in Darjeeling has been stopped by the district administration based on a request from the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation. It has been mentioned that sagging (of cable lines) has been observed between two poles.”
Srivastava said the service would resume only after Conveyor and Ropeway Services Pvt Ltd obtained a no-objection certificate from the public works department stating there was no risk to safety.
During the tourist season, an average of 600 people take the cable car ride from Singamari to Tukvar and back every day. During the 5km ride, the cable cars pass over the Tukvar tea garden with the Kanchenjunga in the background, an official from the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation said.
Children up to the age of eight are charged Rs 80 for a ride; for everybody else the rate is Rs 150.
The West Bengal Forest Development Corporation had raised the safety concerns on the basis of the findings of an expert committee that were submitted to the PWD a month ago.
Earlier this year, the corporation had noticed the sagging of the cables and informed the PWD. Amit Roy Chowdhury, an associate professor of aerospace engineering and applied mechanics at IIEST Shibpur, was asked to inspect the ropeway.
“I noticed that the ropes had sagged by around 6 metres…. I submitted my report on April 28,” he said.
Roy Chowdhury and the three other experts on the committee have also suggested reduction of the voltage on the cables and evaluation of the stability of the structure, set up in a highly seismic zone. They have recommended that washrooms be set up for tourists taking the ride.
“The PWD recently forwarded the report to the department secretary. Following several rounds of discussion with corporation officials, the decision to halt the service was taken,” a senior PWD engineer in Calcutta said.
The ropeway service had been suspended for eight years from 2003 after three cable cars fell off the grid near Tukvar and landed at the bottom of a 200-foot-deep gorge, killing four tourists.
The service resumed on February 2, 2012, but the number of cable cars was cut to 10 from 15.
An official said several safety devices that detect glitches and automatically stop the ride had been put in place.
An official at the forest corporation said the private agency had the lease to operate the ropeway service till 2018. Officials of Conveyor and Ropeway Services Pvt Ltd could not be contacted.