Darjeeling/Siliguri, Jan. 28: The All Hill Transport Joint Action Committee today threatened to call an indefinite strike if the administration continues to “harass” drivers of hill vehicles in the plains. The threat came on a day the outfit had called a 24-hour wheel jam in the three hill subdivisions.
Narbu Lama, the president of the committee affiliated to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, said: “Drivers of vehicles from Darjeeling are being harassed as we have stopped paying road taxes to the government. They (the administration) want us to get our papers updated in Siliguri, which we have refused to do.”
The wheel jam, however, did not impact the plains much although no vehicles went up NH55 to Darjeeling from Siliguri. On NH31A, the lifeline to Sikkim, local private vehicles were stranded at Rangpo, the gateway to the Himalayan state, from 8am to 10am. Picketers allowed vehicles carrying essential commodities, army trucks and buses of the Sikkim Nationalised Transport to ply.
The national highway to Kalimpong, also part of NH31A, was, however, blocked. Vehicles to the Dooars that took NH31 were not affected.
With the strike being announced earlier, tour operators and tourists had adjusted their itineraries accordingly. “A number of tourists came down to Siliguri from the Darjeeling hills and Sikkim last evening and we have no reports of anyone getting stranded today,” said Samrat Sanyal, the general secretary of the Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association.
“Many tourists had either gone down yesterday or extended their stay by a day in Sikkim and will leave tomorrow,” said Lukendra Rasaily, the general secretary of the Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim.
As part of the Morcha’s non-cooperation movement for its demand for Gorkhaland, the party had closed down all offices in the hills related to collection of taxes. Even though the state government, following orders from Calcutta High Court, has opened an additional counter of the Regional Transport Authority in Siliguri for collection of vehicle taxes, most taxis from the hills have not cleared their dues or updated their papers.
Taxis have to pay a token tax every three months and get their road permits renewed every five years. Apart from these documents, a taxi can be hauled up for not getting a fitness test done and pollution and insurance papers updated after the expiry of their terms.
Lama admitted that most of the documents of the hill vehicles have not been updated for more than a year now. “If the administration continues to harass us, we can even call an indefinite chakka jam,” said Lama.
Asked about the demand made through today’s transport strike, Darjeeling district magistrate Surendra Gupta said: “It is a normal, legal practice to take action if the vehicles’ documents are not updated.”