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Auto, trekker off roads

Sept. 19: Autorickshaws and trekkers on some routes across north Bengal, where there are no trains, have gone off the roads, adding to the misery of residents who already have no private buses to bank on.

The owners said they would not run their vehicles till the fares were revised to offset the price hike of diesel and roads are improved. Unlike in Calcutta and other parts of south Bengal, private bus owners have not withdrawn their strike in north Bengal.

“We were forced to resort to a strike as the fares have not been increased and the roads have not been repaired. The state transport minister is insisting that fares should not be increased. It is unjustified. We want him to come here and show us through calculations, how we can survive without increasing the fares,” said Bablu Biswas, the secretary of the Dooars Auto Rickshaw Owners’ Association. “We can no longer take losses. Even though in strike, we will run vehicles for emergency services such as carrying patients to hospitals or students to school for exams,” Biswas said. According to him, around 800 autos ply on different routes across the Alipurduar subdivision and is the main mode of local transport.

“The strike has snapped transport communication with places like Sonapur, Rajabhatkhawa, Natabari, Bhatibari, Hatipota, Samuktala and Alipurduar Junction stations, with Alipurduar town,” Ramesh Burman, a resident, said. “We need to take either reserved vehicles or ask acquaintances with two-wheelers for a drop or pick up.”

Almost all autos and trekkers in north Bengal run on diesel.Rita Chakraborty, a schoolteacher, said: “Everyday, I travel a distance of 16km by auto to reach my school. It is the sole mode of transport on that route,” she said. “I have no clue how I will go to school.” Similar is the situation in Cooch Behar. Both these districts have over 100 pocket routes — ones without train services — where light vehicles are the only mode of transport and there is no train connectivity.

In Cooch Behar, over 1,000 trekkers and autos ply from the district and subdivisional headquarters everyday.

“None of these vehicles are available now. The situation has become so pathetic that we have to take goods carriages like trucks and pick up vans to reach our destinations,” Odud Ali, a teacher at a madrasah in Cooch Behar block-I, said.

In Jalpaiguri, light vehicles plying to Haldibari, rural areas of Mainaguri, Dhupguri blocks and Malbazar sub-division, have also stopped running on the routes.

“There are pocket routes leading to tea estates and smaller hamlets. Locals and commuters who are posted in offices and schools in these areas are entirely dependent on such vehicles,” said Subhas Haldar, who travels in a trekker everyday to his bank in rural Mainaguri.