Wednesday, February 27, 2008

1000 bound for Sikkim stranded

Siliguri, Feb. 26: More than 1,000 passengers were stranded today at the Sikkim Nationalised Transport (SNT) terminus along Hill Cart Road here after Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters stopped buses at several points on NH31A, which connects Siliguri to Kalimpong and Gangtok.

“Around 1.30pm, four SNT buses arrived here from Gangtok without any escort. The drivers reported that Morcha supporters had warned them that if the buses returned, they would be set on fire,” said H.B. Bhattacharjee, the assistant superintendent of SNT.

The Morcha had set up blockades at Rangpo on the Sikkim-Bengal border and Rambi, Melli and Teesta in the Kalimpong subdivision.

“After such threats, we could not take the risk of sending passengers in buses and decided to cancel our services to Gangtok for today,” Bhattacharjee added.

The decision forced Sikkim-bound passengers to stay put in Siliguri. In the afternoon, they gheraoed the assistant superintendent of the SNT. “The situation turned so volatile that we had to call the police,” Bhattacharjee said.

Udayshankar, an employee of the Sikkim education department, said he had come to Siliguri on Saturday and was supposed to reach Gangtok by Monday to join office. He had been to his hometown in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, on vacation

“I have been staying in a hotel here since Saturday and don’t know when I will be able to rejoin work.”

In Sikkim, the deputy inspector-general of police (range), Akshay Sachdeva, said some 100 vehicles were allowed to enter Bengal today. Morcha protesters permitted tourists and passengers with train or air tickets, as well as students and patients, to travel after the Sikkim and Bengal police had prolonged discussions with the picketers.

Apart from this relaxation, Sikkim remained cut off from the rest of the country for the second consecutive day because of the indefinite bandh in the Darjeeling hills. Vehicles with Sikkim registration number were plying till yesterday.

“The West Bengal Taxi Drivers’ Association has now joined hands with the Morcha in Siligrui to stop cars with Sikkim registration from plying. At Rangpo, however, Morcha supporters were to blame,” said Ratan Gurung, a taxi driver in Sikkim. The NH31A is the main link between Sikkim and the rest of the country and almost 60km of it passes through Morcha strongholds.

Sikkim has already taken up the issue with Bengal government and the Centre. The chief secretary of Sikkim has left for Delhi to meet the Union cabinet secretary.