Huge exodus of tourists from Sikkim

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Gangtok, Jun 10 (UNI) Despite a huge exodus of tourists this evening from here in government buses and private taxis, hundreds of tourists still remain stranded in Sikkim as the effect of the indefinite Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) bandh in neighbouring Darjeeling hills paralysed vehicular movement along the NH 31A, the lifeline of the Himalayan state.

Almost half of the 114 km of NH 31A that connects Sikkim with the nearest railway station and airport in Siliguri falls under GJM dominated Kalimpong subdivision of Darjeeling district.

The state administration managed to send seven Sikkim Nationalised Transport (SNT) buses from the capital filled with tourists in the evening to Siliguri and the buses crossed Rangpo late in the evening.

The GJM had agreed to let the vehicles after the Darjeeling district administration talked to them after pressure from the Sikkim government.

Shortage of taxis further compounded the miseries with the drivers refusing to ply despite being assured a safe passage since they would not be able to return once they left the state.

A tourist couple, R C Modi and his wife said thay had reservations in the Rajdhani express tomorrow enroute to Ahmedabad.

''We went to Changu lake yesterday and were not aware of the bandh,'' he said.

Thousands had also managed to leave the state yesterday on short notice hitting the bumper tourism season of Sikkim hard which has still three more weeks to go.

''We have been able to handle the situation and look into the problems of the tourists. There are only a few left but we will ensure that they will get a safe passage,'' Tourism secretary S B S Bhadauria said.

Chief Secretary N D Chingapa convened an emergency meeting of senior state government officials, the district administration, police and the concerned agencies to assess the situation arising out of the bandh and take stock of the situation.

Mr Chingapa has directed the concerned authorities to ensure that there was no shortfall of essential commodities and assured that the general public should not face any inconveniences.

He also directed that the stranded tourists were taken care of and are also provided a safe passage.

The state government also got in touch with their counterparts in West Bengal to keep the NH 31A open and has also apprised the Centre of the situation.

Letters have been sent to the West Bengal government, the Darjeeling district administration and the Centre on the bandh affecting normal life in Sikkim and asking them to keep the national highway open.

Chief Minister Pawan Chamling during his address in the last day's sitting of the Sikkim Legislative Assembly pointed out that Sikkim was time and again affected by bandhs in the neighbouring region with the only arterial highway being affected everytime there was a strike in the neighbouring state.

He said Sikkim had to face the brunt of the political, social and economic crisis of its neighbouring state for no reason and had to suffer losses in crores.

The Chief Minister said the Centre should take immediate steps in this regard.

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