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Cops look other way as taxis change to ‘GL’
- Service resumes but number of cars lower

Siliguri, Oct. 12: Taxis travelling to the Darjeeling hills from the plains have been carrying two number plates for sometime, with police feigning ignorance of the switchover from “WB” to “GL” that takes place midway through the journey.

“It is a safe way out. While the government thinks about political moves and our transporters’ unions convene one meeting after another, we have to fend for ourselves. In that case, we might as well be practical and change to ‘GL’ when we enter the hills,” said a driver whose taxi belongs to the New Jalpaiguri station stand.

The Darjeeling District Taxi and Private Car Drivers’ Association, which is affiliated to Citu, was silent on its members using two number plates. Instead, Ajoy Chakraborty, the president of the association, said: “We are not ready to ply our vehicles with ‘GL’ number plates. We want specific assurance from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the administration that our drivers will not be assaulted. Or else, we would have no option but to stop our services to the hills.”

On Thursday, six drivers from the NJP station were assaulted at Dilaram near Kurseong for not sporting “GL” number plates.

The next day, the New Jalpaiguri unit of the drivers’ union decided to keep their vehicles off the road till the administration gave them protection. Taxis from the Central Bus Stand area, however, continued to ply. Since no formal announcement of a strike was made, some taxis from the NJP stand travelled to the hills today.

“Vehicles plying from Siliguri to Darjeeling and Kurseong unscrew the ‘WB’ number plates at Sukna. The ‘GL’ plates are put up there before heading to the hills. Those plying on Kalimpong and Gangtok route make similar changes at Salugara and Sevoke,” said Kamal Khawas, the secretary of the Siliguri Taxi Owners’ Association, which runs 400-500 vehicles everyday. “Again, before entering Gantok, the drivers switch back to ‘WB’ at Rangpo, a border town.”

In some cases, strips of paper with “GL” written on them are stuck on the number plates of vehicles travelling to the hills. While coming to the plains, the papers are removed.

The switchover is not one-way. Vehicles coming down from hills or registered in Darjeeling, too, change to “WB” before entering the plains. “For them too, the change takes place at Sukna or Pintail. Also, the ‘WB’ vehicles, while coming from Sikkim change to ‘GL’ at Rangpo and again to ‘WB’ at Sevoke or Salugara,” said Norbu Lama, president of the All Transport Joint Action Committee, a Morcha affiliate.

Ganesh Mahato, the secretary of the Siliguri branch of Mainline Drivers’ Association, said it would not be fair on tourists if taxis went on strike at this time.

“Now is the tourist season and if we keep off the roads in protest, visitors to the hills will be in a spot. Not only that, this is the time when we earn the maximum. But the fear of attack and assault is always there. And with the administration being indifferent, we feel insecure,” said Mahato.

The superintendent of police of Darjeeling, Rahul Srivastava, said any car found with a ‘GL’ number plate in Siliguri subdivision would be seized. “But I have no information about the switch over,” he said.

Stakeholders of the tourism industry as well as the district administration are banking on a meeting to be held at the circuit house here tomorrow in the presence of state home secretary Asoke Mohan Chakrabarti.

“The state government is well aware of the emerging issues in the hills, including the ‘order’ to change government signboards. All these will be discussed at the meeting,” said Surendra Gupta, the district magistrate of Darjeeling.

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