A toy train locomotive parked at the Darjeeling station because of the strike. Picture by Suman Tamang
Darjeeling, Oct. 17: The famed Darjeeling Himalayan Railway had to cancel a number of trips today after the employees were allegedly threatened by railway contractors who were on a strike to protest the non-payment of dues of around Rs 1crore.
Even though the contractors under the entire Katihar division of the Northeast Frontier Railways were on strike, only the DHR couldn’t operate the services.
The contractors supply coal and water and maintain railway tracks, apart from undertaking other civil construction works.
Many DHR employees, who didn’t want to be named, said they had decided not to operate trains after being threatened by a section of the contractors. “The contractors verbally threatened us with dire consequences if we operated toy trains. We have enough stock of coal in spite of the strike. Although there is scarcity of water, we can still run the trains,” said an employee.
DHR director M.D. Bhutia also said the hill railway could carry on with the services despite the strike by the contractors.
“I can tell you that we have the capacity to ply trains. However, we are trying for negotiations and to find an amicable solution to the problem (strike). I have informed the higher authorities about the problems in Darjeeling.”
He couldn’t say anything on the contractors’ demand for the payment of the arrears before the Puja.
The contractors denied the allegation that they had threatened the DHR staff.
“Their charge is baseless. Some people might have said a few things but we have only decided to observe a strike. Although the strike is being observed, we are just refraining from supplying coal and water. Other works contracted out to us are being done. We have no intention to disrupt the train services,”said a contractor, who didn’t want to be named.
The DHR operated only two joy rides today. While a train left Kurseong at 7am, another left Darjeeling for Ghoom at 8am. However, three joy rides, which were to start from Darjeeling at 10.40am, 1.20pm and 4pm, had to be cancelled.
The strike also hampered two passenger train services. The trains were to leave Darjeeling for Kurseong at 10.14am and 4pm.
The DHR, an Unesco heritage site, is an attraction for tourists and at least 200 visitors were denied the rides today.
“We tried to convince the contractors that cancelling the trains would have a negative impact on the tourism sector but to no avail. There were many foreign tourists who called me up to say that they were extremely disappointed with the cancellation of the rides as they had planned the trips years before,” said Bhutia.
Subhanakar Ghosh, a resident of Tollygunge in Calcutta, said: “We were excited to take a ride. But when we came to the station, we learnt that trains would not ply. Such incidents are hard to digest for tourists like us. We can just hope that the services will resume soon.”
Late in the evening, the DHR director said all trains would be run at any cost tomorrow. However, its not clear how the DHR will operate the trains with the contractors vowing to carry on with the strike and the coal stock likely to get exhausted.
“Every year the railways make their payment before the Pujas. But this year, we have not received a penny. The amount has touched the Rs 1crore mark and the payments were cleared last in March this year,” said a contractor.