Bengal cancels transport agreement with Sikkim

The West Bengal government has cancelled a transport agreement with Sikkim which allowed free movement of commercial vehicles between the two neighbouring States.

Speaking to The Hindu, State’s Transport Minister Suvendu Adhikari accused the Sikkim government of not abiding by the agreement and imposing several restrictions on vehicles entering the State from Bengal. Relations between the two States got strained during the Gorkhaland agitation last year.

“We cancelled the agreement in January as contrary to it the Sikkim authorities allowed our vehicles only in Gangtok, Namchi and Pelling. The restrictions were being imposed on our vehicles even as we allowed vehicles from Sikkim to freely enter Bengal,” said Mr. Adhikari. He said that the agreement was signed in 2013.

Permit checking

A senior district official from Darjeeling said that commercial vehicles from Sikkim regularly violated the agreement and entered the districts of Darjeeling and Japlaiguri in large numbers without permits.

“This resulted in the roads in Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri getting chocked for hours. Now we have started to regularly check whether the vehicles entering Bengal from Sikkim have permits,” the official said.

Tour operators of both States expressed concern that the move is likely to have a severe impact on the tourism sector which is still recovering from the impact of the 104-day-long strike demanding Gorkhaland.

Blow to tourism sector

“We are still recovering from the Gorkhaland strike and we got another slap on our face with the cancellation of this agreement. This has dashed our hopes of improving business in the coming tourism season (April-June),” a prominent tour operator from Namchi [Sikkim] said.

He also said that following the cancellation of the agreement, their business will be badly hit as most of the tour packages include both Darjeeling and Sikkim. “Now we have to change vehicles at the Bengal-Sikkim border, which will double the transport cost,” the operator added.

Operators of small commercial vehicles will also face severe inconvenience. “I hope the issue gets resolved soon,” said Pradip Lama, the general secretary of Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents.

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