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8 Jul 2018

Two towns along Bhutan border paint picture of contrast ..... Noisy, congested Jaigaon versus lush and clean Phuentsholing; BJP highlights issue

The gate on the India-Bhutan border with Phuentsholing on the other side
ANIRBAN CHOUDHURY, TT,  Jul 08, 2018 , Alipurduar: The roads are congested, causing traffic snarls from early morning to late evening. They are in bad shape, too, with dirt strewn all over. Welcome to Jaigaon, 60km from here.

Barely 100 metres away, beyond Bhutan Gate, is Phuentsholing, the border town of Bhutan. It has a clean and green hilly landscape, with wide roads, parking spaces, planned marketplaces and, most importantly, minimal sound pollution as vehicles do not honk every minute.

"It is unfortunate that Jaigaon has not yet been upgraded to a town. It still holds the rural tag as there is no municipality here. There is a development authority but we have hardly seen any infrastructure development in Jaigaon, except occasional repairing of roads and culverts. We sometimes feel awkward when tourists speak of the contrast," said Rama Shankar Gupta, secretary, Jaigaon Merchant Association.

The contrast is stark when one crosses the border."There is minimum sound pollution in Phuentsholing and more importantly no traffic congestion. This is because vehicles have to strictly follow rules and cannot honk. In Jaigaon, there is not even a proper parking space. Vehicles are parked on road side, which narrows the roads further, leading to congestion," said Jayant Mundra, another businessman in Jaigaon.
A road in Jaigaon. Pictures by Anirban Choudhury
Every day, at least 1,000-odd tourists enter Bhutan via Jaigaon. Also, around 5,000 vehicles roll across the borders in a day. The population of the area - spread over three panchayats under Kalchini block -is around a lakh.

BJP leaders have seized on the sharp difference in infrastructure and cleanliness of the two towns and made it an issue.

"Basic services like drinking water and sewerage are not available in Jaigaon. If it rains more than an hour, most parts of Jaigaon get water-logged. We have often heard from visitors as why Jaigaon cannot have similar infrastructure like Phuentsholing. It is the state's failure that it could not form a civic body here," said Ganga Prasad Sharma, the BJP district president of Alipurduar. "A municipality can at least provide the basic amenities and prevent unplanned growth of houses and commercial buildings," Sharma added.

Trinamul leaders contested the assertions, saying the state has focussed on improvement of Jaigaon.

"An additional superintendent of police has been posted there for better law and order. Also, there are plans to improve the area and the proposal for a civic body is also under consideration. The BJP leaders are politicising the issue. Also, the Centre should have allotted funds for Jaigaon," said Mohan Sharma, the Trinamul president of Alipurduar.

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