Darjeeling bandh cripples Sikkim

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Gangtok, Feb 21 (UNI) A bandh in the Darjeeling hills yet again crippled Sikkim as commuters to and from the Himalayan state were stranded since early today along National Highway 31 A.

Commuters and vehicles from Sikkim, which had been permitted to ply undisturbed despite the bandh, were caught in long traffic snarls all along the highway with vehicles of the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha carrying supporters headed for Siliguri being stopped at Rambi and Kalijhora, some 15 km ahead of Sevoke today by the Darjeeling district administration.

The GJMM supporters were leaving for Siliguri to carry out the hunger strike at the Sub divisional office there.

Arjun Pradhan and P. Lama, both residents of Gangtok returning from Siliguri and stranded at Rambi, told UNI that they had left Siliguri early aware that vehicles from Sikkim were being permitted to ply despite the bandh.

''We learnt that vehicles from Sikkim were allowed from newspaper reports. We were stranded in the jam for the entire day near Rambi and vehicles failed to move an inch for the better part of the day.

We could see lines of Sikkim vehicles on both sides. People who had trains and flights to catch started walking all the way since they were aware that it would continue throughout the day,'' Pradhan said.

Sikkim vehicles caught in such jams had been reported all along the route including at Kalijhora, Melli, Teesta, Tarkhola and even on the West Bengal side of Rangpo.

''Vehicles of Sikkim are being permitted to ply during the bandh and we have not been stopping them. Today's incident where Sikkim vehicles were caught in a jam is unintentional. Our supporters were headed to the SDO office in Siliguri to carry out the hunger strike there but the district administration stopped the vehicles from moving forward and all the other vehicles have been caught in the jam,'' Binay Tamang, the spokesperson of the GJMM told UNI over phone.

The GJMM had on Tuesday announced that Sikkim vehicles would be allowed to ply undisturbed along the 31 A national highway during the indefinite bandh.

While the GJMM had allowed Sikkim vehicles to ply, those carrying goods were being stopped at several places, including at Salugara near Siliguri by West Bengal taxi drivers and by GJMM supporters.

Aware of such blockades, GJMM president Bimal Gurung today said that he was holding a meeting later this evening to chart out an option.

Bandhs in the neighbouring region often cripple Sikkim since NH 31 A, the only lifeline of the state, is made a target and closed to traffic. Besides the commuters, trucks carrying goods and supplies to Sikkim and army vehicles were caught in the long snarl.

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