THE RIPPLES of the protests in the Darjeeling Hills on Saturday reached Sikkim with buses and cars — bearing registration plates of the neighbouring state — being stopped by locals in Siliguri from plying to Gangtok.
While two cars with registration numbers of Sikkim were damaged, the services of Sikkim Nationalised Transport (SNT) from Siliguri was stopped. Drivers of tourist vehicles in Siliguri alleged that while members of the GJM — spearheading the protest for Gorkhaland — were not allowing them to ply cars along National Highway-10 — the lone highway connecting Gangtok and Siliguri — they were not stopping to cars with Sikkim registration numbers.
PTI reported that a Sikkim-bound bus was stopped in the morning. Later, small cars were not allowed to ply to Sikkim. Two cars were damaged by a mob at Champasari, as the drivers refused to get down. While none was injured in the incident, police intervened and removed the two cars from the road.
After the indefinite strike started in the Hills of June 17, sporadic incidents of violence had been reported from National Highway-10. Buses and cars plying from Bengal to Sikkim were vandalised, allegedly by GJM supporters. This comes amid the Sikkim government already providing police escorts to vehicles coming to Siliguri.
SNT additional general manager (operations) H L Lamichaney told PTI that buses did not ply on Saturday out of fear. “Local drivers have threatened us that they will torch our vehicles if we carry on with our services. We will resume our service if West Bengal government provides security to our buses,” Lamichaney said. Sikkim-bound tourists were stranded at the SNT bus stand at Siliguri, said PTI, adding that hundreds were also seen waiting at the bus depot in Gangtok, waiting to purchase tickets to Siliguri.
The unrest in Darjeeling in peak tourist season had come as a boon for Sikkim — a landlocked state — with tourists thronging the neighbouring hill state instead of Darjeeling. But now, with National Highway-10 being the only lifeline for Sikkim, tourist footfall has dropped drastically and the state is staring at a crisis of essential commodities.
Baraf Namgyl Bhutia, vice-president of Travel Agents Association of Sikkim, said: “Sikkim has been badly affected following the troubles in Darjeeling. The hotels were booked till end of July. Now, the hotels are nearly empty. We are trying to evacuate the remaining tourists.”
“Gradually, stocks of essential commodities like fuel and vegetables are finishing. If needed, Sikkim Nationalised Transport buses will be used to bring essential commodities to the state,” said Kailash Agarwal, general secretary of Sikkim Chamber of Commerce.