KOLKATA – West Bengal’s tourism industry has been hit badly due to the flare-up in the Darjeeling Hills over the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state. More than 100 hotels are lying vacant as tourists are leaving the pretty mountain resort in the wake of the violence.
The verdant hills and the Himalayan toy train service are a prime tourist attraction, particularly during the summer.
“The loss due to the ongoing agitation in Darjeeling district is huge and everyday it’s accumulating,” West Bengal Tourism Minister Manab Mukherjee told reporters.
He said directly and indirectly thousands of people are getting affected by the Gorkhaland protest in northern West Bengal. The exact losses in the tourism industry of Darjeeling hills and Dooars area would be assessed later, he added.
Tourism in Darjeeling is roughly a Rs.5 billon industry and the economy of the district depends entirely on tourism, tea and timber. The three sectors have been badly affected due to the indefinite shutdown caused by the Gorkhaland agitation.
Thousands of tourists, including foreigners, had a harrowing time as transport kept off the roads and food became scarce due to the indefinite shutdown called by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) supporters in the hills.
An exodus of an estimated 40,000 tourists started as the indefinite shutdown began in Darjeeling last week.
“The situation is very volatile. We are cancelling tourists’ bookings in Darjeeling and other parts of northern Bengal. Tourism is badly hit by the GJM protests and we are counting huge losses,” Travel Agent Federation of India (eastern India) chairman Anil Punjabi told reporters.
“About 500,000 tourists, from across the country and overseas, visit Darjeeling every year. The tourist season starts from March and continues till June in the summer. This apart, the hill resort also receives huge tourist footfalls during Durga puja, between September-October,” Punjabi said.
Many tourists were also stranded in Sikkim as the National Highway No 31-A, linking the state with Siliguri railhead, remained cut off because of a blockade by the Gorkhaland supporters.
An indefinite shutdown in Darjeeling began from 6 p.m. Monday.
The tour operators of West Bengal also cancelled their trips to north Bengal and its adjacent state Sikkim. “We can’t take any risks and jeopardise our clients. We cancelled two trips to Gangtok in February and June as the Gorkhaland movement started snowballing in Darjeeling,” Soumitra Kundu, official of a city-based leading tour operator agency, said.
The GJM, led by its president Bimal Gurung, has been spearheading a movement in the hills for a separate state, besides opposing the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling district which confers it greater autonomy. Darjeeling was the summer capital of British India till the capital was shifted to Delhi from Kolkata in 1912.