NAMCHI, 21 March: Tired of what they see as undue harassment of transport vehicles from Sikkim by officers of the Commercial Tax Department, Government of West Bengal, at the Melli-Labarbotey Check Post on NH 31A in West Bengal, the truck drivers associations of Sikkim and Teesta jammed the highway for six hours today as they gathered at the Melli Laberbotey Check Post demanding an end to their harassment.
Speaking with this correspondent, the ex-vice president of the All Sikkim Truck Drivers Association, Deepak Gurung, argued that while these check-posts have been established monitor transport operations and to avoid unnecessary delays and harassments, the Commercial Tax Department officers there doing the opposite and subjecting transport operators from Sikkim to undue harassment.
Alleging that bribes were routinely demanded at this check-post and refusal to do so resulted in excessive checks and scrutiny due to which despite having “clean” documents and chalans, the vehicles were held up and delayed.
Members of the organisation further alleged that at other times, the officers there also seized the vehicle documents, driving licenses and even the keys of the vehicles until the penalties were paid up. Such seizures, they argued were not authorized by law. “We used to give some amount in order to avoid harassment and delay to reach to our destinations in time,” they added.
They also alleged that the officers also routinely held up vehicles which had not paid up their monthly “dues”.
When contacted, with Deputy Commissioner, Sonam Sherpa, condemned the allegations and countered that he and his officers were only performing their duty at the check-post.
He stated that they carried regular checking and errant vehicles were be fined according to the rules of the Commercial Tax Department of West Bengal. He also explained that the documents and keys were seized to ensure that the drivers did not flee till the checking was completed.
Meanwhile, the Janmukthi Himalayan Rajmarg Drivers Association president, Uttam Rai, informed that the concerned officers had given a written assurance that the check post personnel will no longer seize the documents and keys of vehicles and will also try to avoid such disputes in the future. This, after a six hour long discussion between association members, truck drivers and the officers of the department. It was only after this that the jam finally opened.