GROSS NEGLECT: Pothole protest clamp on 1500 buses – all of North Bengal, soon to be separated from neglecters ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, Aug. 30: Around 1,500 private buses that ferry nearly 1 lakh passengers daily will stay off the roads in the three districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar indefinitely from tomorrow to protest the crater-filled routes so infamous in north Bengal.
The bus owners have also demanded the refund of the road tax for the past two quarters.
While the buses will ply within Darjeeling district, they will not be available for travel inside Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar. No buses will ply among the three districts either, or from Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar to the rest of north Bengal.
A delegation under the banner of the North Bengal Passenger Transport Owners’ Coordination Committee met Jalpaiguri divisional commissioner A.K. Singh this afternoon and intimated him their decision while demanding that the road tax deposited with the motor vehicles department be refunded.
“The road condition of both national and state highways has been at its worst in the three districts for the past six months. We made several correspondences, submitted memorandums and had even resorted to strikes to pressure the state government and the National Highways Authority of India to repair the roads at the earliest, but nothing happened,” said Pranab Mani, the secretary of the co-ordination committee today.
“Now we are determined to keep our vehicles off the roads unless their conditions improve. It is not possible for us to bear additional costs like repairing our vehicles every time after a trip,” said Chandi Sarkar, a co-ordination committee member from Jalpaiguri.
Depending on the type of vehicle — whether it is local or an express — the bus owners pay tax ranging from Rs 2,500 to Rs 4,500.
“Even after paying tax on a regular basis, we have to ply vehicles on routes where there is hardly any bitumen cover with huge ditches spread across several kilometres. We have asked the divisional commissioner to refund us the tax paid against each bus for the past two quarters and unless the roads are completely repaired, the motor vehicles department cannot charge us any tax,” Mani said. The 1,500-odd vehicles that will remain off the roads also include minibuses and maxis.
“On an average 60 persons travel on each of the 1,500 vehicles a day. That would be around 90,000 passengers. But some buses can carry more than 60 people. So we ferry 1 lakh passengers a day. Of them 20,000 are daily commuters like students, teachers and office-goers,’ said Mani.
Two national highways — NH31 and NH31D — pass through all three districts. The condition of both the roads is deplorable. Since the beginning of this year, the bus owners alleged, the state PWD and the NHAI have been passing the buck on each other. NH31D, which connects Siliguri to Jalpaiguri, is an example. “For the past six months, nobody knew who was responsible for maintaining the road. When the NHAI floated a tender for a Rs 90 lakh work order earlier this month, we realised that the state PWD had finally handed over its responsibility. But they never disclosed it before,” said Mani.
The decision of indefinite bus strike has put the daily commuters in a fix. “Even today, there are several places in north Bengal where there is no train connectivity. We have to depend absolutely on buses, that too private ones as throughout the day, hardly one or two government buses ply on these routes,” said Subrata Mukherjee, a schoolteacher who travels daily from Siliguri to Mathabhanga in Cooch Behar.
Divisional commissioner Singh said instructions to patch up the roads had been given. “Work has also commenced and soon, the road conditions will improve. We have asked the bus owners to refrain from strike,” he said.
Officials from the NHAI said they had initially issued a tender for repairing NH31D connecting Siliguri with Jalpaiguri. “Two other tender notices have been floated for further repair of the national highways in the region,” an official said.
For the stretch of NH31 that connects Sevoke to Bagdogra, PWD officials said they had started the repair but had to stop because of the rain.
“We expect to resume the work by this week,” an official said. The Hill Cart Road or NH55 that connects Darjeeling to the plains is shut since June 16 because of the cave-in at Paglajhora. Last week, NH31A, Sikkim’s only road link, was struck by seven landslides and was shut for three days.
Vehicle fitness drive after deaths – only after, never an ongoing natural policy ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Cooch Behar, Aug. 30: A day after 15 persons were killed when a tyre-burst propelled a minibus into a pond, the district administration began a drive to check the fitness of public vehicles.
The driver of the killer minibus is still at large. All private buses and minibuses were off the road in Cooch Behar during the day following yesterday’s tragic incident.
District superintendent of police Kalyan Bandyopadhyay said the minibus had been seized and sent to the experts for mechanical tests. Worn-out accessories and ancillaries have been a bane of Bengal’s public transport system.
“We are trying to trace the owner of the vehicle. Both the driver and the owner of the vehicle would be arrested under Sections 304 and 279 of the CrPc,” the district police chief said.
The Trinamul Congress today said the accident was a fallout of a “callous and non-functioning government machinery”. Kumar Rajiv Narayan, on behalf of the party, said the 15 passengers had been “virtually murdered”. Narayan alleged that regional transport authority of the district never checked the fitness of the vehicles and the owners got the certificates by greasing the palms of the motor vehicles department officials.
Additional district magistrate (general) Godla Kiran Kumar said such allegations were raised after every major road accident. “But no one comes with specific charges,” he said.