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11 Feb 2018

Hill cars for sightseeing

Vehicles lined up at the Darjeeling Motor Stand. File picture
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Feb 10, 2018, Darjeeling: A Darjeeling transporters' association has decided to bar from April all "outside" vehicles for sightseeing trips, the move apparently aimed at Sikkim which follows a similar policy and whose government was warned not to "interfere" in hill politics.

The Himalayan Transport Co-ordination Committee, an umbrella body, has not named Sikkim while referring to "outside" vehicles but many believe the neighbouring hill state is the target.

The Darjeeling transporters' decision comes weeks after Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president and Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) chief Binay Tamang accused Skkkim's Pawan Chamling government of interfering in hill politics.

"From April 1, we will not allow outside vehicles to ferry tourists to sight-seeing points. They can drop and pick up tourists in the town but they will not be allowed for sight-seeing," S.N. Pradhan, president of the transport committee, said on Saturday.

The aim is to benefit local taxi drivers. Taxis from Bihar, Jharkhand and even Nepal have started taking visitors for sightseeing," said Pradhan, avoiding the mention of Sikkim.

Observers, however, believe the move is primarily aimed at stopping Sikkim-registered vehicles. Sikkim vehicles outnumber those of other states in the Darjeeling hills.

Tamang had issued the warning to the Chamling government at a rally in Sukna last month. "We have got nothing against the people of Sikkim. We share very close ties but we have a problem with the government there. A government should act like a government but they are interfering in the politics of Darjeeling, Terai and the Dooars."

Tamang had asked the Chamling government to take his word seriously. The tough talk had followed suspicion that his Morcha rival and former party chief Bimal Gurung had taken shelter in Sikkim while in hiding after the Gorkhaland agitation started last year.

"Please take my words seriously. If the Sikkim government continues to interfere in our politics, we will also interfere in your politics. The ball is in the Sikkim government's court on the kind of relations it wants to maintain with us," Tamang had said.

Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee had echoed Tamang during her visit to Darjeeling earlier this week.

"It looks like a tit-for-tat decision. Sikkim too has a similar policy in place," said an observer.

Transporters from Bengal have long been demanding that their vehicles be allowed around Sikkim as there is no bar for the hill state's taxis in Bengal. Sikkim insists it needs to protect the interests of its people.

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