Hundreds of daily commuters protested in at least two stations of Jalpaiguri district on Monday as the popular Haldibari-New Jalpaiguri (NJP) passenger train resumed services after the pandemic-induced lockdown with higher fares and a mandatory reservation fiat.
Protests and sloganeering were witnessed at Jalpaiguri Town and Belakoba stations.
The decision of Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) to introduce a flat rate of Rs 35 between any two stations along the NJP-Haldibari route and mandatory booking created trouble for many daily passengers, including office-goers, domestic helps and farmers.
Nitai Das, a government employee and daily commuter on the Siliguri-Jalpaiguri route, said many could not board the train on Tuesday as they could not buy tickets in advance. “Some stood at the counter at Jalpaiguri Town station with booking slips but none could board the train. Railway authorities clarified that tickets had to be bought at least four hours before the train’s departure as once the reservation chart is ready no more tickets would be issued,” Das said. Vegetable vendors were among many who found it tough to fill up reservation forms.
A daily commuter said it was surprising that even for an hour-long journey, reservation was mandatory.
“Local train services have also started in Calcutta and Mumbai but as far as we know there is no such reservation system in metro cities. Why here? This is discrimination. Here, fares have also been hiked in the name of reservation charge. We want the railways to run this train like before,” he said.
As the train from Haldibari chugged into Jalpaiguri station, passengers who had not been able to buy tickets started a demonstration in front of the ticket counter and the entrance. Some even confined a couple of railway employees and shouted slogans. Later, similar protests were witnessed in Belakoba, a station between NJP and Jalpaiguri, said sources.
Salil Acharya, the Jalpaiguri district CPM secretary, said the train between NJP and Haldibari was the principal mode of transport for hundreds of farmers of Haldibari, a prominent agricultural belt of north Bengal.
“During the past 10 months or so, they had to hire smaller vehicles to ferry their produce at extra cost. The announcement that this train service would resume had brought them some relief. But the new decisions imposed by the railways have only added to their problems. We doubt how many of them can book tickets in advance. It is high time that the railways revoke the decision,” said Acharya.
A railway official in Jalpaiguri sounded helpless. “We can’t do anything unless there is a specific instruction from our seniors,” he said.