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AC buses off highway
- Siliguri-Calcutta trips hit by bad condition of NH34

Calcutta, Aug. 14: All air-conditioned bus services between Calcutta and Siliguri have been suspended for an indefinite period because of the poor condition of NH34 whose repair is stuck in the alleged failure of the state government to acquire land for four-laning.

While private operators used to run 13 AC buses in both the directions together a day, the North Bengal State Transport Corporation had one AC bus for the service between Siliguri and Calcutta.

“We had to suspend the service because the present condition of the road does not fit to our fleet … We have been running imported AC buses, but we have decided not to run the buses unless the condition of the 580km stretch is improved,” said Swaraj Ghosh, the general manager of Jai Dada Group of Companies.

Ghosh’s company used to run two buses — one Volvo and one Mercedes Benz — everyday from Esplanade bus depot to Tenzing Norgay bus terminus in Siliguri.

“A Volvo bus costs Rs 82 lakh and the price of a Mercedes bus is nearly Rs 1 crore. There are a number of stretches on NH34 that have become non-motorable because of craters,” said Ghosh.

“If a bus plies on such a road, it faces mechanical problems like malfunctioning of suspension and axles… We cannot take that risk,” he added.

Not just Jai Dada, all other five private operators — Royal Cruiser, Santanu, Green Line, Bhupatinath and Senco Bus Services — also withdrew services after the monsoon had wreaked havoc on NH34, which connects Dum Dum airport and Dalkhola in north Bengal.

The buses would enter NH31 at Dalkhola to go to Siliguri, which is 135km away. NH31 also has potholed stretches.

A source at the NBSTC also said its single AC bus was taken off the service between Siliguri and the state capital because of the poor road condition.

The poor condition of the roads also resulted in pushing up the travel time between Calcutta and Siliguri from 12 hours to around 24 hours. “Now, we start around 7pm from Esplanade and reach Siliguri in the evening, next day,” said Mandal.

The number of non-AC buses operating between Calcutta and Siliguri has also dropped from 20 everyday to five.

The National Highways Authority of India, responsible for the maintenance of NH34, blamed the state government for the delay in repairing the road. “We have initiated a project of four-laning the stretch of NH34 from Barasat to Dalkhola. But we cannot do it properly because of the unavailability of land,” said an NHAI official.

He said the primary task of NHAI was to make NH34 a four-laned road, but the work had come to a halt as the government was not acquiring land for the widening of the Barasat-Krishnagar stretch.

“Some patchworks can be carried out after the monsoon. But repairing the road that can serve for a longer period is only possible if we get the chance for widening. Once we get the required land from Barasat to Dalkhola, we will re-construct the thoroughfare,” said another NHAI official.