10 buses to ferry 1000 passengers

Siliguri, July 17 : Nearly 1,000 people and just 10 buses to take them to Sikkim.

That was the situation today at the Sikkim Nationalised Transport bus terminus off Hill Cart Road here during the hours of relaxation. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has granted the relief to take the stranded people of the Himalayan state back home.

Patients, students, tourists, traders and the common people of Sikkim formed the major part of the crowd that swarmed the terminus campus, either standing in a queue in front of the closed counters or squatting inside the shed since dawn, hoping for tickets.

They got ecstatic when the ticket counters opened around 12.30pm, nearly seven hours after standing in the queue in the heat.

“I have been standing here since 5am to get tickets for myself and my ailing daughter,” said D.M. Gautam of Rabong, the first woman in the queue at the counter.

“I had taken her to Calcutta for treatment but got stuck here on the return.”

The situation is not unique today. The stranded people have been thronging the terminus since Tuesday when the Morcha began its indefinite strike, blocking NH31A, Sikkim’s lifeline with rest of the country.

A group of eight students from Nepal, who arrived in Siliguri yesterday, were among the stranded passengers. But they are afraid of missing the admission deadline at Sikkim Manipal University. “We have come all the way from Dharan to get admitted to SMU. It will be bad if we get stuck here and miss the deadline,” Ranjeeta Limbu said.

Two students of Sikkim Government College, Tadong were desperate to reach home as the institution will reopen tomorrow after a vacation. “We have to reach Gangtok today because God knows when they will give the next relaxation. It’s a matter of attendance. If we run short of it, there will be a problem during the exams,” one of them said.

Many have lamented that Sikkim suffers unnecessarily every time the Morcha calls a strike.

“We have moral support for their demand but there is no logic in closing NH31A which happens to be our only link with the rest of India. Moreover, they stone and damage our vehicles if we try to pass through the highway, which is bad,” said Tenzing Lama, a social worker from Singtam.

“The Morcha should give relaxation at least twice or thrice a week. Some of us need to travel to Siliguri and other places on a regular basis. Strikes like this cause a lot of inconveniences,” said L.P. Chhetri, also from Singtam.

For Vicky Grove and two of her friends from the UK, the strike has spoiled their plans to visit Darjeeling and Sikkim. “We could not visit Darjeeling but hope to visit Sikkim if we get the tickets,” Vicky said.

However, with 10 buses with a seating capacity of 30 each, SNT officials are finding it hard to accommodate all the stranded people in Siliguri. “We can accommodate a maximum of 35 people in a bus. We are giving preference to students, patients and residents of the state. As for the tourists, we are not taking them as it will be a problem for them to leave Sikkim when they want,” said Buddha Rai, the public relations officer of the SNT.

Today’s relaxation was granted after senior officials of the SNT approached the Morcha leadership, he added.