In a sign of his commitment to his constituents, an MLA ziplined across a surging river in flood-hit Sikkim to take stock of the situation in a town that has been worst-hit by the floods.
Samdup Lepcha is the legislator from the Lachen Mangan constituency. Chungthang, which saw parts of the 1200-MW Teesta III Dam being washed away, is part of his constituency and has borne the brunt of the flash floods that hit the state on Wednesday, resulting in the deaths of at least 53 people.
On Saturday, Mr Lepcha was leading a team from Pegong village in Mangan district to Chungthang, where residents have been complaining of inadequate relief efforts. The only log bridge leading to Chungthang has been washed away and, on the suggestion of his team, Mr Lepcha decided to take the only route available to them.
A video shows the MLA suspended from two ropes as he is given a little push by security personnel. Mr Lepcha is seen smiling initially, but the danger becomes immediately apparent when he is seen dangling over the angry Chungthang River, swollen with floodwater, with just the temporary zipline holding him aloft.
Sources said Mr Lepcha and his team, which also included the Deputy Inspector General of Police and Chungthang’s Sub-Divisional Magistrate, were the first senior officials from the administration to reach the cut-off town since the flash floods hit.
Residents of Chungthang said that when the South Lhonak Lake in the upper reaches burst its banks, flooding the Teesta River and sending floodwater rushing downhill, the existence of the Teesta III dam caused a whirlpool in the town, ravaging it. The floodgates and several other structures of the dam, which is the biggest in the state, were washed away by the river’s fury.
They complained that relief efforts in the town have not been up to the mark and claimed that none of the stranded residents were airlifted in the three days since the flood hit.
A resident said two prominent villages close to the town, Lachen and Lachung, which are popular with tourists, have been completely cut off
Soldiers Among Dead
At least 53 people, including 8 soldiers, have been killed and over 140 people are missing since the flash floods hit the state on Wednesday.
The Sikkim government has reported that 1,173 houses have been severely damaged and over 2,000 people have been rescued. At least 14 bridges have been submerged or washed away, disrupting connectivity to North Sikkim.
After a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang on Friday, officials had said reopening road connectivity to Chungthang is being prioritised. Compensation of Rs 4 lakh has been announced for the families of the dead.