The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bad roads trigger 3-day wheel strike

Darjeeling, Jan. 23: The Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Transport Joint Action Committee has called a three-day transport strike in the Darjeeling subdivision, starting February 1, to protest against the bad roads in the hills.

The strike, which comes at a very short notice, is expected to leave tourists stranded in various parts of the hill-station. Though the peak season in the hills is already past, the flow of tourists has not stopped and a considerable section comes here to sample the town during winter.

“Since the condition of the roads leading to Tiger Hill, Rock Garden, Bijanbari and Teesta Valley is very poor, we have decided to call a three-day strike to demand for immediate repair,” said Nim Tshering Bhutia, the president of the joint action committee. “We have already met the district magistrate and he has promised to look into our demand.”

The committee leaders are apparently not aware that the district magistrate’s office is not responsible for repair and maintenance of the four roads in question. These roads fall under the purview of the DGHC and the transporters’ body, surprisingly, has so far not made a single representation before the council.

“They have never come to us with the problem,” said Anil Verma, the chief principal secretary of DGHC. The official added that the DGHC maintains a vast network of roads and that they are in the process of repairing different stretches. “Since it is difficult to get bitumen on time, repairs get delayed sometimes. Moreover, with the cost of bitumen rising, the process has become expensive. Nevertheless work is on at different places.”

Tshering, however, justified the committee’s move. “The Bengal government is collecting the taxes (road and motor vehicle) and that is why we thought the district magistrate would be the right person to approach,” he said.

The committee’s determination to go ahead with the strike has caused jitters in the tourism industry. The sudden announcement of the strike and its duration, have come as a jolt to tour operators and hoteliers here.

“Even during the off-season we have special packages. A number of strikes earlier has already caused problems for us and a new one now will definitely hit us hard,” said Pradip Lama, secretary, Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents.

Travel agents here feel that the strike, even if it has to be called, should be ideally for 12 hours to start with. “This way tourists can be accommodated for a night halt at places like Bagdogra. However, a three-day transport strike at such a short notice will make things difficult,” Lama said.

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