image makeover for Siliguri

Siliguri badly needs an image makeover. It is today known as the place you pass through in order to reach the tourist destinations of Darjeeling, Gangtok and the Dooars. You cannot fly to Siliguri though it has an airport (it is named Bagdogra), nor can you take a major Mail or express train to Siliguri (its main station is called New Jalpaiguri). Somewhat like Kolkata which never had a station to its name until very recently, Siliguri has a couple of stations but they cater only to the less important trains. It is imperative that two transport centres are renamed at the earliest.
Siliguri however lies at the crossroads of South Asia. Within a radius of 50 kilometres as the crow flies there are four countries and four states of India. It is the gateway through which the Indian heartland communicates with the North Eastern states of the Indian Union. No wonder then it is the fastest growing small town in India. The superficial trappings of modernity have all arrived. It has large shopping malls; most of major brand names are here. The number of two wheeler and car dealers are increasing rapidly. More and more traffic is out the streets.
But Siliguri has no public transport worth the name. There are autos as polluting and as reckless as anywhere in India, there are cycle rickshaws which are a law unto themselves, but then the only regular bus service in the city packed up some years ago. Some buses do run fitfully, but they are negligible in number. The roads that are being built, cutting in their wake large trees that are never replaced, do not have any provision for cyclists who are a major part of traffic. As Sunita Narain of Centre for Science and Environment never tires of pointing out we have the opportunity to leapfrog over the problem of the west . We could have made proper cycle lanes in order to encourage a pollution free transport system. Instead we are allowing the roads to be encroached on by hawkers, most of whom hale from outside the state and often from outside the country.
The air pollution levels are frightening, Standing at the Sevoke crossing in the vening reminds one of the Bowbazar crossing in Central Calcutta. This is not unexpected considering the number of transport vehicles which ply all openly flouting even the most rudimentary pollution norms.
The health care system is in shambles. We have talked about it earlier, but to repeat, the government system has totally broken down and the private health care system is out of reach for the general public. We will have more to say about this later.
The education system is no better. The school system is characterized by mushrooming of schools with names that remind one of the halcyon days of the hill schools. There the resemblance ends. There are ´public schools” and English schools at every hole and corner, the quality of education they afford is very poor. One of my colleagues was telling me about a story about the Siliguri franchisee of India’s most famous school chain. Her daughter recited Wordsworth’s Daffodils at a school recitation competition. It was not in the “course”, her English teacher asked her whether she had written it!! I jest not. The state of higher education is slightly better. North Bengal University is rated as one of the better universities of the second rank. Some departments I am told are highly rated.
To be known in India or elsewhere, Siliguri needs to make a dent on at least these problems. It is possible; in fact it is imperative to do something so that Siliguri can be known for something other than the quality of its table tennis players. It is up to the citizens of this city to do something, the political leadership has no vision.

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