|Passengers stranded at New Jalpaiguri station during the 24-hour strike called by the Bangla O Bangla Bhasha Banchao Committee on Friday. (Kundan Yolmo)
Siliguri, May 14: More than 2,000 tourists and local people were stranded in New Jalpaiguri station and Bagdogra on the first day of a rash of bandhs that started in the hills and plains of north Bengal today.
Many tourists, mainly foreigners, were caught unawares when they arrived. We did not have any clue about todays strike and it seems that we have to wait at least till evening to get out of here. We are desperate to reach Sikkim by tonight as in case we travel tomorrow morning, we may be stopped by the agitators, said Glen McCarthy, an Australian, who had flown in from Calcutta.
With hardly any vehicles plying and taxi drivers sitting around at New Jalpaiguri station or Bagdogra airport throughout the day, passengers were forced to wait for hours. However, after 4.30pm, the drivers agreed to bring out their vehicles.
Todays strike called by the Bangla Bangla Bhasha Banchao Committee will be followed by a two-day shutdown in the hills from tomorrow by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. The Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad has threatened to call a bandh for three more days from May 17, if their demands on teaching jobs are not met.
The Morcha also has a 10-day strike in Gorkhaland lined up from June 12 to pile pressure on the government to include the Dooars and Terai in the interim set-up proposed for the Darjeeling hills. The boundary of the territory under the interim set-up would later form the separate state of Gorkhaland, the Morcha had said. The weekend shutdown is also part of the pressure tactics. The Bhasha Committees strike is against the interim set-up and Gorkhaland.
Traffic on NH31A to Sikkim was thin throughout the day although sources at the Sikkim Nationalised Transport said their buses plied normally. The Supreme Court had ordered the Bengal and the central governments to ensure that the highway, the only road link between Sikkim and the rest of the country, was kept open at all times.
However, a few visitors managed to make it to Darjeeling early in the morning. We started from Siliguri at 5am and there was no problem reaching Darjeeling. We know about the strike starting tomorrow, but given the amount the tourists had spent we decided to take the chance, said Arnab Chowrasia, a tour guide on arriving in Darjeeling.
Up in the hills, people thronged the markets to stock up for two days. Most of the tourists had left Darjeeling for Siliguri yesterday because of todays strike in the plains.
Those coming down from the hills had to face problems as the vehicles they were travelling in dropped them off either at Sukna on NH55 or at Salugara on NH31. They had to walk at least 5km to reach Siliguri and then scout for accommodation.
We reached Darjeeling yesterday afternoon from Sikkim and we had planned to stay there till Sunday afternoon since we have our railway reservation for Guwahati on Sunday evening, said Sambhunath Roy, a resident of Guwahati, who returned to Siliguri today. He said he was looking for transport to reach New Jalpaiguri.
Arup Jana, a resident of Lake Town in Calcutta, and three of his friends, faced similar inconveniences. The group reached Darjeeling More at 11.30am in an auto-rickshaw at New Jalpaiguri We are supposed to go to Sandakphu for trekking, but did not have any idea about the strikes here. After arriving in NJP, we came to know there is a strike at Siliguri and there will be strike in hills for next two days, Jana said. We had to pay Rs 200 for the vehicle to reach here and dont have much choice. We plan to start for the hills today, said Sanjib Dhali, a friend of Jana.
The strike was peaceful in and around Siliguri but 10 bandh supporters were arrested at Hashmi Chawk when they tried to stop a NBSTC bus from plying a local route.
Apart from Siliguri, a partial impact of the strike was felt in Alipurduar in Jalpiaguri district and in Cooch Behar. All tea estates in the Terai and Dooars were unaffected. ( )