Rallies stare at hill travel plans – Morcha meets on interim set-up for drivers

The Telegraph

Darjeeling, Nov. 24: Four Gorkha Janmukti Morcha rallies on two consecutive days to educate hill drivers about the proposed interim set-up are expected to hit hard 5,000 daily commuters tomorrow and the day after.

The rallies — in Kurseong and Mirik tomorrow and in Darjeeling and Kalimpong on Friday — will also be platforms of protest against the alleged police harassment of drivers and vehicle owners.

“The rally in Kurseong will start from the Tourist Lodge at 1pm. Since all drivers will participate in the rallies, we are appealing to everyone to refrain from riding their vehicles from noon to 4pm in Kurseong and Mirik tomorrow,” said Subash Pradhan, the secretary of the Kurseong-based Gorkha Janmukti Chalak Mahasangh that will also organise the rally in Mirik.

The All Hill Transport Joint Action Committee is the organiser of the programmes in Darjeeling and Kalimpong.

Pradhan said the rallies were being held to demand the immediate formation of the interim set-up for the Darjeeling hills and to stop “police harassment”.

“As part of the non-co-operation movement (in the past two years), hill drivers have not paid their taxes nor updated the documents related to vehicles. So, the police are harassing us. We will protest the police highhandedness and will demand the immediate formation of the interim authority, to which the motor vehicle department will be transferred,” said Pradhan.

Around 6,000 taxis are registered in the hills. Most of them are currently being run without valid documents — licences and fitness certificates have not been renewed — because of the “non-co-operation movement”. Moreover, registration of new vehicles has also been stopped after the “non-co-operation movement” began in 2008.

According to Section 158 of the motor vehicles’ act, drivers must carry the permits and certificates of fitness with them. Driving without valid permit can lead to a fine of Rs 2,000-5,000 when caught for the first time. One has to face imprisonment for three months to one year or pay a fine of Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 or both if he is held for driving without valid documents for the second time.

Although traffic will not be disrupted in Darjeeling tomorrow, people leaving the town will be affected as they will have to pass through Kurseong, whether they use the Hill Cart Road, Panbari road or the Rohini link. As a rally will be held in Mirik, the route via this town will also be choked. The only option left for vehicles entering or leaving Darjeeling is the road through Mungpoo, which takes about 45 minutes more than the time required to travel through the other routes.

The Mungpoo route branches out from Jorebunglow and joins NH31A at Rambi Bazaar.

Narbu Lama, the president of the All Hill Transport Joint Action Committee, said the rally in Darjeeling would start from the railway station at 10am on Friday. “We do not want any vehicle to ply in Darjeeling for three hours,” he said.

Even though there is no huge rush of visitors to Darjeeling this time of the year, tour operators said the tourists would have to change their itinerary to ensure a hassle-free travel.

“We will definitely have to make a lot of changes in the travel plans. No one would like to get stuck in a traffic jam for three-four hours,” said a tour operator who did not want to be named.

On an average, around 5,000 people, including tourists, travel between the hills and the plains everyday at this time of the year, said a transport operator.

“The disruption in the vehicle movement will not be confined to just these hours. It will definitely stretch for more than that as it takes time for traffic to get streamlined. So, those who have a flight to catch at Bagdogra will definitely have to leave early morning. But people who have booked trains might have to spend the entire day in Siliguri,” said a tour operator.

Another issue which is a worry for the tour operators is the unavailability of vehicles. “This could be a major problem if all the drivers decide to attend the rally,” said the tour operator.


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