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5 Dec 2016

Bengal revokes transport agreement with Sikkim

Pramod Giri, HT, 5 Dec 2016, SILIGURI: Bengal government’s decision to unilaterally revoke a reciprocal transport agreement with Sikkim has hit the age-old friendly ties between the two neighbouring states and as a result tourism industry in Sikkim is facing an unprecedented crisis.
Tourism is the biggest industry in Sikkim. It employs largest number of people in the state. Bengal government on September 20 revoked the reciprocal transport agreement it signed with Sikkim government in 2007 after Sikkim government reportedly failed to address the concerns of West Bengal government.
As per the reciprocal agreement, the vehicles of Bengal and Sikkim are required to drop the passengers in the notified areas of other state. The vehicles cannot ferry passengers beyond the notified areas.
Different tour and travel operators of Bengal had been claiming that the agreement was not tourist friendly and the tourist cars are going to Sikkim from Bengal should be allowed to ferry tourists in all corners of Sikkim. Even chief minister Mamata Banerjee wrote to her Sikkim counterpart Pawan Chamling requesting him to look into the matter.
However, for Sikkim, the interest of state’s tourism industry and the livelihood of thousands of tourist car owners and drivers are paramount. As Sikkim government did not entertain the West Bengal’s request, West Bengal unilaterally revoked the agreement reportedly under the instruction of the chef minister Banerjee with effect from September 20. After the agreement was unilaterally revoked, vehicles owners plying between the two states started suddenly feeling the pinch. It is alleged that the motor vehicle authorities and police in both the states are harassing the drivers of other state and imposing fines.
The situation has come to such a pass that the drivers’ associations of two states have stopped the vehicles of one state from entering another state.
SBS Bhaduria, the transport secretary of Sikkim, said, “Bengal revoked the agreement unilaterally without taking our consent.” He said, “We cannot allow the Bengal registered public vehicles to ferry tourists to different tourist spots in Sikkim. If we do so, the youths of Sikkim who are into tour and travel business will be adversely affected.” Bengal government also does not allow vehicles from Sikkim to ferry tourists in tourist spots of Bengal, he pointed out.
A senior officer of West Bengal transport department said “The agreement was lopsided and in favour of Sikkim while it has not benefited Bengal.”

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