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Forward march

Ghani Khan Chowdhury had transformed Malda from a village to a bustling town. With his death, development came to a halt and now the town is bursting at its seams and crying for expansion. Arindam Sarkar writes.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2011 15:22 IST
Arindam Sarkar

Seventy years ago, it was a village. And a villager dreamt of turning it into a bustling town. The villager is no more, but the town is now bursting at the seams.

The pride of Malda, former Union minister ABA Ghani Khan Chowdhury, turned this god-forsaken place, once famous only for its mangoes, into a must-stop for trains running in north Bengal and a growing business centre after Siliguri.

Between 1977 and 1995, as power minister of the Congress government in Bengal and power, irrigation, planning and railway minister in the cabinets of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, Ghani Khan Chowdhury transformed Malda into a hub of development and activities.

It was under Ghani Khan Chowdhury that Malda became a divisional headquarters of the Railways, got a cultural centre in Rabindra Bhavan, got new markets (Chittaranjan, Otul Kumar Jha, Qazi Azaruddin, Netaji Commercial Market), a swimming pool, the DSA athletics grounds and the indoor and outdoor railways stadiums.

"He brought electricity to Malda. He widened roads, created embankments to prevent floods and erosion, laid sewerage and drainage systems and built a flyover," said Congress MP AN Khan Chowdhury, brother of Ghani Khan Chowdhury. "But it's time we took his work forward."

Indeed. Malda town spreading over 13.25 sqkm is fighting hard to manage its 2.17 lakh people. It's total chaos. Traffic congestion is a regular phenomenon. Rickshaws and cars have thrown vehicular movement out of gear. Pollution has reached dangerous levels. Sewerage and drainage systems have collapsed. Parking is a major headache. Arsenic-affected drinking water is a death threat. Lack of industries and educational institutes have made employment a major problem and increasing population is putting pressure on the administrators to expand the township with new infrastructure facilities.

"There is no doubt that Malda is a disorganised town. Overhauling the drainage and sewerage systems and supplying arsenic-free water either by taking water from deep tube-wells or from the river are my priorities," said AN Khan Chowdhury.

Disorganised is an understatement. In 1972, Malda got its own municipality, thanks to Ghani Khan Chowdhury. Between 1972 and 1977, it got basic infrastructure such as roads, markets, transport system, parks and electricity. From 1982, came the railways, NTPC, power grid, IOC, central school, TV station, flyover. But everything stopped with Ghani Khan Chowdhury's death in 2005.

Today, Malda Town is so over-populated that traffic congestion, unplanned construction, inadequate supply of drinking water and garbage disposal have become major headaches for the municipality. "Everyday, 250 tonnes of refuse is generated and there is no place to dump it. A JNNURM project for water supply has been stopped. The volume of cars has increased and there is no proper place in the town to park vehicles," said Malda Municipality chairman Krishnendu Chowdhury.

The people of Malda agree that the town is bursting and the infrastructure is unable to meet the challenges. The only way out is to expansion. Chowdhury says the town should be expanded in all anchals (wards). The bus terminus, medical college and other centres should be sifted outside, thus expediting development of the outskirts.

"There is the need to create infrastructure on the outskirts of Malda town so that satellite township can grow. We need more open space and entertainment enclaves. People should become more ambitious and come out of their 10 am to 5 pm attitude," said businesswoman Ratna Chowdhury.

People complain that though they have a medical college and hospital, it is too small and lacks infrastructure. There are plans to have a parking bay under the hospital to relieve the pressure from the roads. A new garbage-recycling plant has been sanctioned. "We will also have a central bus terminus and an airport. Unless communication is developed, industry and business cannot thrive. And with this expansion should also come," said AN Khan Chowdhury.

The youth are not happy with the education facilities and claim that lack of opportunities is forcing students to migrate outside.

"Gour Banga University lacks infrastructure. Question papers get lost and results are not declared in time. People have no faith in the medical college and the available treatment facility. So students and patients leave the town to avail facilities elsewhere," said Yuba Congress VP Prosenjit Das of Gour College.

"The education system here is so poor that students don't get through competitive exams. And there is no employment. Students are demoralised," said a student and Yuba Congress general secretary Hasum Akhtar.

Worst is the condition of tourism in Malda. What could have been a major source of revenue yields nothing, thanks to government apathy.