Deal for 20-year service ‘expires’
Tourists are set to miss the ropeway in the current season as the lease to conduct the rides has purportedly expired and no fresh tender has been issued to hand over the service.
The Darjeeling Rangeet Valley Ropeway is a joint venture between the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation and the Conveyor and Ropeway Services Pvt Ltd. The corporation directed the ropeway company to stop commercial operations from Sunday, stating that its 20 year lease period had expired.
The ropeway company on its part is planning to approach court and there are no signs of the services resuming immediately.
The fight between the forest department and the company is over the “interpretation” of the 20-year lease period. The forest department is of the opinion that the tenure expired on March 31, 2018, and hence, the company is not entitled to continue with the services.
The firm, however, differs with the forest department’s opinion.
Rachana Mukherjee, the director of the CRS Pvt Ltd, said over the phone from Calcutta on Monday: “We are given a lease to run the ropeway commercially for a period of 20 years so that we could recover our investment made in 1998. However, the ropeway has commercially operated only for about 10 years.”
The director argues that the operations of the cable cars had been suspended from October 2003 and resumed only on February 2, 2012. The ropeway was closed following an accident on October 19, 2003.
“Even after that, the rides were stopped for some time because of difference between the forest department and the PWD. We have commercially operated for only 10 years till date and the services are a loss,” said Mukherjee.
The ropeway charges Rs 200 per an adult and Rs 150 for children aged between three and 10 years for a 5km to and fro ride between Singamari and Vah-Tukvar tea garden.
As per the agreement, 20 per cent of the earnings goes to the forest department, said Mukherjee
“We had invested around Rs 3 crore in 1998 and we are still in a loss. We will go to court on the interpretation of the lease agreement,” said Mukherjee.
Fresh tenders have not been floated by the forest corporation and officials insists that they would first carry out some repairs and maintenance work.
“We are aware that the term of the contract has ended. We have decided to carry out some repairs and maintenance works as there had been mishaps earlier. The main cable of the ropeway and some other equipment would be replaced. Once these works are done and the security issues are checked, we would lease it out again for resumption of the service,” said Udayan Guha, chairman, WBFDC.