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21 Jun 2017

Food trucks refusing to go to hills: Mullick

A man hauls gas cylinders in Darjeeling in the middle of the shutdown on Tuesday. (AFP)
TT, Siliguri, June 20: Food minister Jyotipriya Mullick today said truck drivers had been refusing to ferry supplies to the Darjeeling hills fearing attacks by protesters.
"We are facing a number of problems in this regard. Drivers and cleaners of trucks that ferry supplies have refused to go uphill fearing attacks by the protesters. Overall, it is a tight situation," Mullick said in Siliguri today.
Over the past two days, Mullick said, at least six vehicles loaded with foodgrain had been forced to return  from the hills. "We are in touch with the district administration and exploring options," he said.
Mullick, who held a meeting with tourism minister Gautam Deb at Uttarkanya today, said the existing stocks would last "some more days" but added that they needed to be replenished soon.
"Every month, 9,500 metric tonnes of foodgrain is sent to the hills. But all 670-odd ration shops in the hills are now closed because of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's strike. As far as we know, the existing stocks would last some more days. But we need to replenish the stocks soon," Mullick said.
According to the minister, a majority of the 9 lakh-odd hill population is dependant on foodgrain supplied through ration shops.
A Siliguri-based truck operator echoed the food minister on the reluctance of drivers to go to the hills.
"The drivers and cleaners have told us that they were threatened by the protesters against coming to the hills. Even if the government arranges for their security, we are not sure how many of them will agree to go uphill," he said.
Observers said such an assertion from the government on difficulties faced in transporting foodgrain to the hills was significant at this juncture.
If the government now sends truckloads of food supplies to the hills and they are intercepted by the Gorkhaland agitators, it would not go down well with the common people at a time the fear of a food crisis is looming large, the observers said.
"It seems the state wants to drive home the point that the strike is affecting the common residents and the Morcha is responsible for it," an observer said.
Tourism minister Deb today held another meeting with transporters and stakeholders of the tourism industry.
"We are providing buses for tourists and local residents every day so that they can travel between the hills and plains. Necessary security is also being provided to these vehicles. But if the agitators continue with the strike and try and stop emergency services like supply of foodgrain, it is the common people who would suffer," he said.
Referring to transport facilities, Deb said government officials were in touch with their counterparts in Sikkim.
Meet with Rijiju
A five-member delegation led by Morcha leader R. B. Bhugel met Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju in Gangtok today.
Bhugel said Rijiju had been told about the current situation in the hills. The Morcha leader said Rijiju had told them that the Centre was aware of the situation and had urged the hill party not to indulge in violence.

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