Chowkbazar declared a "no construction zone"

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Darjeeling, April 20: The Darjeeling municipality declared the market above Chowk Bazar a “no-construction zone” soon after it was razed to the ground early this morning.

“The area has been declared a non-construction zone for the time being. This order is being issued to ensure that there is no haphazard construction in the area, the roads remain wide and a planned structure comes up in the future,” said Amar Singh Rai, the chairman of the Darjeeling municipality.

The civic chief said “for some reason” most of the shopkeepers had not gone in for mutation of their property.

“We have not collected any toll (taxes) from the area. We would want to go through the documents,” said Rai, indicating that the civic body perceived that many had encroached upon the area.

Most of the shopkeepers, however, said the land on which the market stood was privately-owned. “One Md Saluddin who stays in Varanasi owns most of the land. We hear that he has about 45 family members and each of them has been given a share. However, the land is still in the name of Md Saluddin and some people come once in a year to collect the rents,” said a trader whose shop was gutted.

Another businessman said after the market was gutted on November 17, 1971, the land owners had not constructed the complex. “Those who had shops in the area built the structures on their own. This is why the rents are also low,” said another trader who refused to divulge the rent.

With the land in somebody’s name and the building constructed by individual owners there seems to have been some technical problems in the mutation, civic sources said.

The municipality’s move has, however, made the shopkeepers apprehensive. During an interactive programme organised by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leadership at the Darjeeling Gymkhana Club, many traders demanded that construction be allowed immediately. “The shops are the only source of our livelihood and it will be difficult for us to survive without it,” said a woman.

Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said: “The party will extend all possible help. We, too, want to see that your shop is constructed immediately. We have already spoken to chief minister Mamata Banerjee and she has agreed to help the victims.”

Many shopkeepers said on condition of anonymity that the municipality was taking advantage of the tragedy.

“Although we have not officially heard of the order on no-construction, we believe that we should be allowed to construct the shops immediately. So long, the municipality had not bothered to check whether taxes were being paid or not. Now, why does it have to take this step after a tragedy?” a trader asked.
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