The Rangeet Valley Passenger Ropeway, a popular tourist attraction here, has shut services since on Sunday following non-renewal of the lease agreement by the private company that operates it.
The last such agreement between the Conveyer and Ropeway Services Pvt Ltd and the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation (WBFDC) expired on 31 March this year.
“On Sunday, we received a letter from the WBFDC, asking us to close our operations. The letter said that the lease term for the period of 20 years expired on March 31, 2018,” an official of the company, who did not wish to be named, said.
The Ropeway first started operations in 1968 when only the forest department operated it. However, from 21 March 1998, it is being jointly being run by the WBFDC and the private company. The ropeway covers an aerial distance of about 5 km up and down from Singmari to Tukvar with the view of tea gardens under it.
“The operational lease was for 20 years, but we could only operate it for about 10 years because of various reasons like the different political movements here and the strikes, along with the accident in the year 2003,” the official said, adding that high-level talks were going on to extend the lease agreement and resume operations at the earliest.
It may be mentioned here that the ropeway had once been shut down in 19 October 2003 after an accident there killed four tourists. The operations resumed only on 2 February 2012.
The services also faced the brunt of statehood agitations, where countless days of strikes took place in the year 2013 and 2017, and very recently when the Hills were shut for 104 days.
Many tourists who wanted to take a ride on it returned on Sunday. “We had made plans to visit Darjeeling two months ago, and taking a ride on the ropeway was one of our plans, with our children also very excited. But when we reached here, the gate was closed and we came to know about it closing down and we felt bad about it. The government should take steps to open it as soon as possible,” said Gobinda Chakraborty from Kolkata.