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Taxis off road, pumps dry

Dec. 8: Taxis did not ply between Darjeeling and Siliguri for the second day today to protest against the GTA Sabha’s decision to levy toll on vehicles travelling through Rohini Road.

Along with the taxis, truck drivers also have been on strike on the same issue, because of which most of the petrol pumps in Darjeeling were out of stock today.

A one-day taxi strike had been called by the Trinamul Congress-backed union of drivers, the Terai Chalak Sangathan, yesterday and it was supported by the Darjeeling-based United Taxi Association.

However, the Sangathan members decided to keep their taxis off Rohini Road today also, forcing the United Taxi Association, too, to join them.

Kanchan Gurung, the president of the United Taxi Association, said: “We were compelled to stay off the road today as we couldn’t take the risk because of the Sangathan’s decision to continue with the strike. No vehicles came up from Siliguri today, forcing us to keep our vehicles off the road.”

The Sangathan’s decision has also prompted Darjeeling district leaders of Inttuc – the labour front of Trinamul — to call the representatives of the taxi union for talks tomorrow. Arupratan Ghosh, the Darjeeling district Inttuc president, expressed his disappointment over the Sangathan’s decision to continue with the strike.

“It is true that the Sangathan was formed at the behest of the Inttuc. But the Sangathan is yet to be affiliated to the Inttuc. Still, we have some responsibility, particularly because representative of the Sangathan are mentioning the Inttuc’s name. Our party is against strikes and leader Mamata Banerjee has made it clear time and again.”

“We have called the Sangathan for talks tomorrow. If there is any dispute, it can be resolved through talks. We do not support the strike and will discuss the issue with the drivers tomorrow,” he added.

Taxis have to pay a toll of Rs 30 each, while trucks need to give Rs 80 each for a one- way travel through Rohini Road.

The taxi strike has forced commuters to look for private vehicles to take them to Siliguri.

“A few taxis were willing to take the risk of going down to Siliguri but they wanted to take the Mungpoo route and were asking for Rs 200 per head. So, I decided not to go to Siliguri today,” said a commuter.

Mungpoo is an alternative route to Rohini and the travel distance increases by more than half an hour.

Shared taxis charge Rs 130 per head on the route via Mungpoo.

The GTA had convened a meeting with members of various transport unions in Darjeeling yesterday to discuss the matter, but no decision could be taken.

Rajen Chhetri, the general secretary of the Darjeeling Truck Drivers’ Association, said the GTA leaders had been told at the meeting that the strike would be lifted only if NH55 was repaired.

The highway has been closed since June 2010 following landslides at Paglajhora and the trucks are forced to ply through Rohini Road.

Following the truck strike, most of six-seven petrol pumps, right from Sukhiapokhri to Darjeeling, have run dry.

Shopkeepers have also not been able to replenish their stocks. Tankers carrying water also didn’t ply for the second consecutive day in Darjeeling today.