Thursday, May 07, 2009

The early years of SNT…….

SNT as Sikkim Nationalised Transport is popularly known had been the backbone of a rich old heritage in Sikkim transportation history. When I came across an article “A review of Nationalised Road Transport in Sikkim (1944-1969)” written by L.H Hartnett, the then General Manager of Sikkim Nationalised Transport published in the Silver Jubilee magazine of SNT in 1969, I found some excellent preview of the early days of the Sikkim state transport system that was to change the scenario of Sikkim transportation within the next fifty years. No matter it would take a while to complete the review of the Sikkim Nationalised Transport over the last six decades but I would be more precise to bring to mind the early days that competed the establishment of today’s SNT.

People boarding the Sikkim Transport Service Bus at Deorali (late 50s)

The year was 1944; when the rest of the world was engaged in the disastrous Second World War, a department called Truck Department run by Government of Sikkim was the forefront of transportation in the hills of Sikkim. Sikkim then had snowfall in the Northern Ranges in winter, rainfall exceeding 100 inches a year during monsoons, frequent landslides, subsidence weak bridges and absence of airport. For a hilly region like that of Sikkim where major development in the field of transportation was merely a dream; Truck Department was a boon to the people living in this part of the world.

The first year of the setting up of the Nationalisation of Road Transport saw ten Ford (military type) trucks with a pay load capacity of 15-cwt each was brought in an investment of Rs 140,000, avail from the loan provided by the Rationing Department of the Sikkim Government. The same year other ten 15-cwt Chevrolet trucks were also acquired. The total tonnage lifted by those trucks amounted to 600 tones, earning for the Department gross revenue of Rs 49,900. With limited routes around the trucking operation was prepared through Gangtok-Tista-Kalimpong and Gangtok-Tista-Geilkhola until 1950 where the floods of 1950 destroyed the railhead at Geilkhola never to be restored.

The first TMB Freighters

Following decade of 50s brought Sikkim to close links with the neighbour country India. An arrangement were made in 1951-52 with the North East Frontier Railway in India and Indian Postal and Telegraph Department resulting in the opening of the Railway Out Agencies at Rangpo and Gangtok along with the starting of the carriage of postal mail between Gangtok and Kalimpong. Freight services were extended to Siliguri and Truck Department’s Pradhannagar Depot was also opened the same year. A major announcement came in 1951-52 with the naming of the Truck Department with that of “Sikkim State Transport Service”. In its first eight year the Sikkim State Transport Service had a gross earning of Rs 18, 71,124.

The first consumer pump for petrol in Rangpo, passenger services extended to Siliguri, nationalization of the Namgyal Highway in South Sikkim were undertaken by the State Transport Department between 1952 to 1954 and the gross earning of the Department had already crossed Rs 32, 82,786. The following year saw a new usher in the development of Road Transport in the State with the introduction of the First Plan in Sikkim too that was for seven years. Prior to 1954 planning of the Transport in the state was refereed as pre-plan. The First Plan (1954-1961) had a capital outplay of Rs 8, 50,000 provided as aid by the Government from Departmental funds received from Government of India.

The year also witnessed the first Tata Mercedes Benz Truck; Model L 312/36 being used on the road from Gangtok to Rangpo, Gangtok-Darjeeling daily Passenger service in land rovers was also introduced. An agreement for the counter signature of route permits by the West Bengal Authorities and of Sikkim State Transport vehicle was negotiated. This move made the vehicle from Sikkim operate on the route of North Bengal that played an important role in the economic development of the state. The State Transport Service’s Offices set up at Rangpo the same year saw a net profit of over Rs 2, 98,348. The second year (1955-1956) of the plan had the renaming of the Transport Service to the present name “Sikkim Nationalised Transport”. Sikkim Nationalised Transport was also made a permanent Department of the Government of Sikkim under the same Plan.