Mangan students, teachers heroes of the moment

 MANGAN (NORTH SIKKIM), Sept 24 – Four days after the devastating 6.8 earthquake that struck Sikkim, the ground realities at Mangan, headquarters of the North District is a picture of chaos and unmitigated sorrow. A little outside Mangan the stench of death and decomposing bodies is quite noticeable.

Despite the presence of the Army and other agencies, the people of the North district have had to fend for themselves. What little news that comes in of the many scattered and remote villages, such as Bay, Pegong, Saffu, Shipgyer is either from the many labourers on their way down to the plains or desperate villagers coming to seek help from the headquarters, after walking many kilometres.

Lack of communication and a severe lack of coordination, has left many rescue and relief teams stranded at the Mangan helipad with food and supplies stacked and undelivered for over three days.

It is disheartening that the local authorities have not been able to spearhead any cohesive search, rescue or relief operations even as many villagers stay cut off and helpless. A team of Sankalp India Foundation, which arrived within 48 hours from Bangalore has been unable to do any work due to lack of coordination from local authorities.

Though there are volunteer NGO teams, a team of the National Disaster Relief Force, the Indian Army, the Indo-Tibetan Police Force, Jalpaiguri based Disaster Management team, the heroes of the moment are the teachers and NSS students of the Mangan Senior Secondary School who have organised themselves into ten-man teams to take on the task of search, rescue and delivery of relief food and aid packets.

Headed by their teachers, Rabden Pintso Lepcha, Devilall Chettri and Kunzang Bhutia, the students have been carrying foodstuff and aid to villagers. They have also started collecting decomposing bodies and with help of locals cremating them.

The local population too has chipped in with whatever stores they have, to feed the many labourers who are fleeing their places of work, providing with some money, food and finding transport out of Mangan.

Local doctors, some junior government officials, on their initiative are making attempts to organise themselves into a functional assistance group as most of the senior officials are busy attending to VVIP duties. The local officials and doctors say that they may face a health hazard due to the decomposing bodies trapped under debris and inside collapsed buildings.

The army has been helping out by setting up langars to feed the hundreds of labourers from the plains and elsewhere. But their priority, along with the BRO, has been to get the roads open again and attending to the many injured and dead Defence personnel that are being ferried by helicopter from Mangan and other places in the North to Sukna and Bengdubi.

Reports from places further North, reaching Mangan are stark and tragic. With the roads being inoperable and dangerous many have walked all the way, risking life and limb. The road from Chungthang to Mangan is dotted with mangled vehicles, some with decomposing corpses in them, and corpses of people hit by falling boulders or buried under landslide debris.

Kuldip Singh, Ranjit Singh and Avtar Singh from Gurdaspur in Amritsar, who worked as labourers at Teesta Urja hydel project, left for Siliguri broken-hearted, vowing never to come back to Sikkim again. They say they carried out nine corpses from a tunnel and that there were four or five more inside when they decided to leave. They said they have not been paid for over three months, and claimed that there were many more casualties at Teesta Urja.

Other labourers coming from different places from north have equally harrowing stories to tell. The labourers claim that three other project sites of NEC, SEW Infrastructures Limited, and Abir Construction, affiliated to Teesta Urja have many casualties. There is no news at all of officers, staff and labourers of MG construction, involved in constructing a road for the army at Domang in Lachung. Anywhere from 1600 to 2000 labourers are being sheltered in the many Gurdwaras of the Sikh Regiment and being fed by the local people and the army.

Reports coming in from Chungthang are equally bleak. With no communication available, and even the army having faced problems, the Yarlam Resort, which is equipped with VSAT communication was the only means of communication for people around Chungthang with Gangtok.