Night buses that ply on the Balurghat-Siliguri route parked at a terminus in Balurghat on Sunday.
Picture by Mithun Roy
Balurghat, Feb. 24: The night buses from Balurghat to other parts of north Bengal have stopped plying for about a week because of a salary dispute between the private bus owners and their employees.
More than 1,000 people who take night buses to Siliguri, Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and Alipurduar town everyday are the worst sufferers in an area where there is only one morning train to Siliguri as an alternative way of transport.
Trouble over running the buses started on February 18 when some workers refused to run the vehicles demanding salary hike.
“We were considering their demands and the issue was almost resolved but some workers started threatening us and an owner was abducted. At least four FIRs have been lodged against the bus workers. I have been in this business since 1985. Every time the demand for a salary hike is raised, we sit and solve the problem. This time, we got a letter on a letterhead of the INTTUC, the Trinamul union, threatening us,” said Dipankar Roy, the president of the association of night bus owners in Balurghat.
A bus owner alleged that the workers under the banner of the INTTUC were threatening them demanding a hike.
“We are feeling insecure and we are afraid of operating buses. There was a demand to raise the salaries of the drivers and the helpers. Some members of the labour organisation of the ruling party are threatening us. We have informed the administration but no action has been taken,” said Gopal Kundu, an owner.
Most traders from Balurghat and the surrounding areas take the night buses to Siliguri, Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri as they can reach their destination in the morning and conduct business.
At night, they board the Balurghat-bound buses and return home the next morning.
An intercity train runs between Siliguri and Balurghat once a day.
The train leaves at 10.40am and reaches Siliguri at 5pm. Those who want to go to Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar have to take buses from Siliguri.
Although several buses ply between Balurghat and the other towns during the day, most traders from South Dinajpur prefer night buses that take around eight hours to reach Siliguri.
“The train reaches Siliguri in the evening. We have to stay the night there if we have some work. We generally take the night buses and reach Siliguri in the morning. We get enough time in the day to finish our work and we can board a bus at night and return home,” said Sanjib Mandal, a businessman from Balurghat.
Ten night buses ply from Balurghat bus terminus daily between 8pm and 9.30pm.
“The drivers and helpers get Rs 550 and Rs 310 every day, respectively. We had written to the bus owners urging them to raise the salaries to Rs 650 and Rs 450 a day. But that was turned down. Our people did not attack the owners. If our men are involved in hooliganism, we will take action. The owners should not have stopped the service,” said Majiruddin Mandal, the district president of INTTUC.
Pratima Das, the subdivisional officer of Balurghat, said: “I have heard that the (night) bus service has been suspended and a bus owner was threatened. We will discuss the issue on Monday.”