Deb with the NGO representatives in Siliguri on Monday. Picture by Kundan Yolmo
TT, Siliguri, July 18: A clutch of NGOs that met Gautam Deb today, seeking to stop water pollution and encroachment of riverbanks, was told by the minister that they should approach the Siliguri Municipal Corporation as well.
The delegation of the Citizen Forum for Siliguri’s Environment, a platform of NGOs, met tourism minister Deb today to giverelated to the city.
Deb, who heard out the delegation, seemed a bit miffed on hearing their complaints.
He said later: “It is disappointing that even though we have made new footpaths along Hill Cart Road and Kutcheri Road and planted trees on road dividers, the civic body is not maintaining either of these. It is the SMC’s responsibility to see that footpaths are not encroached upon. But those running the board are least interested in taking any initiative.”
Deb requested the NGOs to work at the grassroots and make people aware of conservation of the environment and approach the civic body with the town’s problems.
Around 15 NGOs based in Siliguri were part of the delegation that met Deb at his office in the Mainak Tourist Lodge.
Durga Saha, a joint convener of the forum, said after the meeting: “Pollution and encroachments of the embankments and beds of the Mahananda, Jorapani, Fuleswari and Balason rivers are a key problem which we, Siliguri residents, have been witnessing for several years. The rivers are in pathetic condition as houses and cattle sheds have come up on both sides.”
The delegation told the minister that “our town is a tourism hub and the gateway to the Northeast. Such pollution gives a bad image of Siliguri”, Saha said.
The memorandum also mentioned severe traffic congestion and lack of parking space in the town.
Deb asked the NGOs to spread awareness at the grassroots.
“There are a few NGOs that work in and around the town round the year, but representatives of most of the (other) NGOs are keen to get publicity, instead of spreading awareness among people. We will surely look into the issues, particularly encroachments of the river banks. You should approach the civic body which has the responsibility of managing the town,” he told the delegation.
Speaking to reporters later, Deb said a meeting would be held in August to discuss possible options to stop river pollution and clearing encroachments.
“Next month, a high-level meeting would be held here. We will have the north Bengal development minister and the chairman of the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority, along with senior administrative officials, at the meeting. We also expect that people from the civic body will attend the meeting,” he said.
Deb had earlier said that the SMC often did not send its members mayor-in-council to the meetings called by the minister.
When told about Deb’s complaints regarding the absence of councillors from meetings, Mukul Sengupta, the member-mayor in council, conservancy, said: “If we are called, we will surely attend the meeting. We are always there with the state and other agencies when it comes to the development of the town. The issues which are likely to be discussed at the meeting are important and need to be resolved. The civic body will extend all possible cooperation from its end.”
Animesh Bose, another joint convener of the forum, said they would host a citizens’ convention on July 24. “At the convention, we will elaborate on what the forum has done so far to stop encroachment and pollution of rivers and also on other problems of the town. We will seek the opinion of people on what our next move should be,” Bose said.
When asked about today’s meeting, Bose said: “The meeting we had today with the state tourism minister was effective. He has made some suggestions and also promised to stand by us on these issues. We have learnt from him that the state will also take some initiative in this regard.”