Acute fuel crisis cripples life in Tripura as torrential rains snap NH-8
National Highway 8 turned unusable across its course down the hilly Tripura, which is surrounded by Bangladesh on three sides.india Updated: Jul 31, 2016 14:09 IST
Heavy rains over past three months have crippled Tripura’s only physical link to the rest of India, leaving the landlocked northeastern state stranded amid a mounting fuel crisis that has upset its economy and people.
National Highway 8 turned unusable across its course down the hilly Tripura, which is surrounded by Bangladesh on three sides. Locally called Assam Road, it is now mostly a slushy stretch where trucks carrying essential commodities are stranded.
The state with 37 lakh people currently gets only half the goods it requires. This has pushed prices steeply high, upsetting school education and newspaper circulation too. A litre of petrol in the state capital costs upward of Rs 300, while it is above Rs 150 for diesel. Two-wheelers lined up in long queues at the only pump that sold fuel on Saturday.
There is extreme shortage of cooking gas as well. LPG cylinders are being sold at above Rs 2,500 in the black market.
The petrol crisis deepened on Sunday as four pumps in the state capital are shut. The closure of pumps at Siddhi Ashram, Bardowali, Radhanagar and Durga Bari marks a paradox: it comes on a day Tripura is making a stride in rail connectivity. Sunday is the historic inauguration of the first Agartala-Delhi broad-gauge train service. The weekly Tripura Sundari Express covers 2,460km in 47 hours, stopping at 16 stations.
The state government first resorted to rationing for fuel products and, last week, enforced a system where vehicles with odd registration numbers will get fuel on odd dates and the even-numbered ones on other dates. The implementation sparked protests, and the odd-even was till August 1.
The fuel shortage has forced schools, especially private, to suspended classes. Many educational institutions have curtailed bus services for students. CBSE-run schools such as Pranabananda Vidyamandir and Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan declared holiday for two days.
At some places, students need to walk close to 10 km to attend classes.
The break in studies is worrying parents. More so, of those who are appearing in the board exams next February-March.
Students are distraught, too. “Classes have been irregular this monsoon,” said Sunita Saha, a tenth standard student. “Teachers will struggle to cover the syllabus in time.”
The print media is paralysed for the last two months. Trucks carrying newsprint are aground in Assam’s Lowerpoa area. If the circulation of dailies has trimmed owing to transportation problem, shortage of newsprint has prompted a few of them to stop publishing supplementary pages.
Tripura, which has 70% Bengali population, has 66 publications—23 of them dailies. A chunk of the newspapers and weeklies are Bengali.
Rulers and traders
The Left-ruled state government complained of laxity on the part of the BJP-led NDA government at the centre in addressing Tripura’s current issue. “We get little support from Delhi,” said food and civil supplies minister Bhanulal Saha.
On Friday, Saha and chief minister Manik Sarkar had their residences turning into venues of protests by people angry about price-rise and fuel shortage.
Businesses are down. Traders, faced with thin supplies and low sales (owing to high price), have requested the union government to take counter-measures. The Bharatiya Udyog Vypar Mandal, an organization of traders of small-scale industries, sent a letter to Union minister for surface transport Nitin Gadkari, seeking restoration of the arterial NH-8.
The All Tripura Merchants Association (ATMA), too, has taken up the issue. “We have already highlighted before the state government the plight of us merchants since May,” an ATMA functionary said. “As we are yet to get a reply, we will meet ministers Manik Dey (transport) and Saha on Monday.”
Tripura Lok Sabha MPs Jitendra Chaudhury and Shankar Prasad Datta also approached Gadkari to make NH 8 fit for use.
Last week, Trinamool Congress staged a ‘chakka jam’ in protest against the fuel crisis and price-rise.
The BJP in Tripura is optimistic of a recovery soon. “The vehicle movement on NH-8 has smoothened now,” said Biplab Deb, the party’s state president, when contacted.
“With the Assam government’s initiative, the 7-km road between Lowerpoa and Churaibari has been restored,” he added.
Also, the National Highway Infrastructure Development Corporation has restored the alternative highway to make vehicular movements normal, he claimed.