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Truck, taxi toll protest to hit hill supplies

Dec. 6: Darjeeling is likely to face crisis of foodgrains, water and other essential items soon as truck drivers ferrying the goods to the hills have stopped plying through Rohini Road and have called an indefinite strike from tomorrow to protest GTA’s decision to levy toll on the route.

Most taxis that ply between the plains and the hills would go off roads tomorrow as the vehicle owners have called a daylong strike.

Of the five petrol pumps in Darjeeling, at least one ran out of fuel this afternoon.

Sources said the stock in the other four would last till late evening tomorrow or a day or two more at the most depending on the sale. Stocks of essential items are likely to last for a few more days.

“Trucks haven’t been plying on the road since December 2, a day after the GTA started collecting the toll and we have not been able to replenish our stock. We are not sure how long the situation will be like this,” said a petrol pump owner.

Rajen Chhetri, general secretary of the Darjeeling Truck Drivers’ Association, said: “We have even requested the trucks that ferry water, to stop plying from tomorrow. Trucks ferrying water to the Darjeeling zoo, army camps, police and hospital would be exempted from the strike. We will also exempt trucks that carry water to households that have marriages and funerals.”

Chhetri claimed that there were 750 members in the association, including 50 who drive tankers that supply water.

Many households in Darjeeling depend on these trucks as the civic body’s water supply is erratic.

A dealer in fast-moving-consumer goods in Darjeeling said: “We might manage for a few more days but not beyond that. Distribution is getting disrupted in places like Bijanbari and Sukhiapokhri because goods are taken to these areas from Darjeeling.”

Chhetri said: “We want the administration to allow the trucks to ply through Rohini Road free of cost until NH55 is opened. We are not in a position to pay the toll.”

The highway has been shut since June 2010 and the quickest road for vehicles that ply between the hills and the plains is Rohini Road. Vehicles can also travel via Mongpoo and Mirik but the roads are not in a good condition.

Light vehicles travelling down to the plains take Pankhabari Road.

The GTA had earlier fixed the Rohini Road toll for trucks at Rs 150 but it was revised and brought down to Rs 80.

Representatives of the Tarai Chalak Sangathan, an apex body of taxi drivers who ply vehicles between the hills and plains, today said they would not take out cars tomorrow.

Sabin Thapa, secretary of the association, said: “A toll of Rs 30 has been fixed for four-wheel light vehicles which we drive between the hills and plains. We have to pay Rs 60 for a round trip to Kurseong or Darjeeling and Siliguri everyday. It is tough for us and the owners of our vehicles to bear the cost. We have called the strike tomorrow and can even resort to an indefinite strike.”

He added that if a driver had to pay Rs 60 everyday as toll, the amount would be Rs 1,800 in a month and Rs 5,400 in a quarter.

“We are paying a quarterly road tax of Rs 3,840. Why should we pay the toll then? There is no revision of passenger fare, the cost of diesel is increasing at regular intervals and the maintenance costs of vehicles has also increased. How can we bear this extra cost of over Rs 21,000 a year as toll?” Thapa asked.

From Siliguri, around 800 light vehicles leave for Darjeeling everyday and 500-600 of them are likely to be off the road tomorrow.

“We will not stop any vehicle in case it heads for the hills and pays the toll,” Thapa said.

The vehicle owners have supported tomorrow’s strike.

“We are supporting them,” Kamal Khawas, the president of Siliguri Taxi Drivers’ and Owners’ Association, said.

Kanchan Gurung, president of United Taxi Association based in Darjeeling, said they would also support the strike.

Jyoti Kumar Rai, the executive Sabha member of the GTA in charge of transport, could not be contacted today. Earlier, he had said that the GTA had discussed the rates with the stakeholders before finalising them.

“Following objections from the trucker’s union, we even slashed the rate from Rs 150 to Rs 80,” he had said.