The Sikkim Progressive Youth Forum (SPYF) has demanded a rollback of the recent hike in bus fares, more buses between major towns of Sikkim without increase in fares, and keeping the hike in fares for inter-state travel by taxis to a minimum.
The SPYF, which espouses political and social issues, in a media release issued in Gangtok said at a time people were struggling amid the Covid-19 pandemic, steep hikes in public transport fares was like adding insult to injury. “By doing this, the burden of the pandemic has been put on the shoulders of common people. Covid-19 is a global pandemic, we all need to fight it together,” it said.
Accusing the Sikkim government of doing little to lessen the burden of people, the SPYF reminded that it was the people who lost their jobs, sources of income and businesses. “On behalf of common people of the state, we request the government to immediately withdraw the recent fare hike,” the release said.
The SPYF’s requests include starting of Sikkim Nationalised Transport (SNT) bus services between all important towns and bazaars of the state without raising the fare, limiting the hike in taxi fare to within 1.3 times of the old fare even for inter-state travel (say, Gangtok to Darjeeling or Kalimpong), economic relief package for drivers, one-time tax relaxation for non-private and non-government vehicles and six-month relaxation on payment of EMIs for car loans.
The Sikkim transport department recently revised share taxi and bus fares in view of curbs on number of passengers on a vehicle because of Covid social distancing protocol. While the fares of multipurpose utility vehicles (MUVs) like Tata Sumo and buses have doubled, that of five-seater taxis has been increased by a third within Sikkim and doubled for inter-state trips.
The SPYF also wondered about the fate of the Economic Revival Committee set up by the government in view of the pandemic-induced disruption to the state’s economy. “The much-touted Economic Revival Committee is yet to come out with measures to revive the economy. Despite several suggestions given by SPYF and many other organisations and individuals, the government has not paid any heed as a result of which the people belonging to the middle and lower middle class are finding it extremely difficult to eke out a living,” it alleged.
The government announced resumption of tourism from October 10. Tourism is the backbone of Sikkim’s economy. Over 14 lakh domestic tourists and nearly 1.5 lakh foreign tourists visited Sikkim in 2019, which equals 2.5 times more than its population of nearly seven lakh.