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Train-less Dooars suffers most

Siliguri, Sept. 17: People of the Dooars had the toughest time on the first day of the indefinite private bus strike in north Bengal as trains from Jalpaiguri did not ply.

Yesterday, tracks near Oodlabari, Jalpaiguri, sank in after the soil under the rails got washed away in the rains.

Today, when in other areas of north Bengal people thronged to railway stations, given that there were few buses on the roads, residents of the Dooars did not have that option. Over a lakh people commute from Dooars to Siliguri, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and within the tea belt every day.

“The trains which cater to thousands of people travelling from one end of the Dooars to the other and to Siliguri halted yesterday. On the other hand, not a single bus or maxi cab is available across the region,” said Dipankar Nandi, a businessman in Malbazar.

“The only vehicles available are the smaller private vehicles which are charging exorbitant rates to ferry passengers. A few government buses have plied but those are insufficient in number.” Train movement through Dooars resumed this evening.

Over 6,000 private buses did not ply in the six districts of north Bengal. The government buses of the NBSTC that plied are not more than 700.

Today, Lord Vishwakarma played saviour to many as several schools and offices were shut because of Vishwakarma Puja. The full impact of the strike, called by private bus owners — they want to raise fares to offset the diesel price hike and better conditions of key highways — would be felt tomorrow.

Since morning, only a handful of government buses were available for passengers who jostled to board them.

“Only a few buses were available. I could manage to board one and reached Jalpaiguri after two hours. There is a long line of trucks on NH31D because trucks are stuck as the road is bad,” said Ranjit Saha, an employee of a private clinic in Jalpaiguri who commutes regularly from Siliguri.

“While returning, there was a huge rush of passengers as many people who work in Dooars returned via Jalpaiguri. Similar was the condition in the local trains which ply from Haldibari to NJP via Jalpaiguri and vice versa.”

Some daily commuters in the Dooars said they paid as much as Rs 200 to travel a distance of 25-30km in small vehicles when the usual bus fares is about Rs 15-20.

“In the towns and villages, people are forming groups and approaching these light vehicles, finalising a rate and traveling to their destinations,” a resident of Dooars said.

“So far, even though vehicles were moving at snail’s pace because of the bad roads, at least some buses, maxi cabs and trekkers were available. But from today, the indefinite strike has posed a new problem before us. It is high time that the state government takes up the issue or else, thousands of people in north Bengal would be facing inconvenience everyday,” said Sumit Das, a schoolteacher who serves in Mekhliganj subdivision of Cooch Behar, said.

The bus owners are adamant. “Unless the fares are revised and roads are improved, it is not possible for us to run buses and maxi cabs and incur losses. We have already suffered losses in the past couple of years and will perish if we ply buses now,” Pranab Mani, secretary of the North Bengal Passenger Transport Owners’ Coordination Committee, said.

“We would prefer to pay our employees and keep our buses off the roads,” said a bus owner.