M A I N   N E W S

Gorkhas get more autonomy in Bengal
Subhrangshu Gupta/TNS

Pintail Village (Sukna), July 18
Ending two decades of uncertainty in the Darjeeling hills, a historic tripartite agreement for a new council with more powers was signed today even as the West Bengal government ruled out any division of the state.

The agreement for Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) was signed at 3.40 pm in the presence of Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung here, about 8 km from Siliguri. The CPI(M) and other Left parties boycotted the function. A 48-hour bandh was observed in the adjoining Terai and Dooars in the plains against the signing.

The pact was signed by West Bengal Home Secretary GD Gautama, Union Home Ministry Joint Secretary KK Pathak and GJM general secretary Roshan Giri here, about 8 km from Siliguri.

The new autonomous, 50-member elected hill council will have more administrative and financial powers to independently run the three hill sub-divisions of Kurseong, Kalimpong and Darjeeling as compared to its former avatar, the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, formed in the late 1980s. While 45 members will be elected, the remaining five will be nominated by the government. Election will be held in six months.

The GTA will get 60-odd different government departments, including finance, health, land reform, food and agriculture, electricity, irrigation and waterways and tourism. However, the Home Department (police) will not be under its control. “Everything that concerns the people is given to you,” said Chidambaram.

There will be a direct flow of funds from New Delhi to the GTA for development works. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has already sanctioned Rs 600 crore as special assistance for Darjeeling. Banerjee also assured a complete economic package to the GTA, which, she said, would function within West Bengal.

Though the GJM’s demand for a separate state and inclusion of added areas in the ‘mouzas’ in the plains in Dooars and Terai areas has not been met, the government has agreed to consider the demand for inclusion of larger areas in their jurisdiction. A nine-member committee will look into the matter. A discordant note was struck by Bimal Gurung's wife Asha just before the signing saying that she was happy at the inclusion of the word 'Gorkhaland' in the GTA agreement and the 'ultimate aim' was to achieve a Gorkhaland state.

However, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who kept her pledge to resolve the Darjeeling hill crisis within three months of coming to power, said there was no question of bifurcating West Bengal. Banerjee said the new memorandum of agreement sought to confer to the GTA maximum possible administrative autonomy within the constitutional framework and within various state and central acts.

After the agreement was signed, both Chidambaram and Banerjee expressed satisfaction that after two decades of negotiations, the Darjeeling impasse would be settled. Describing the occasion as ‘historic,’ Chidambaram said the Centre and the state government would fully back the GTA. “Both the Government of West Bengal and the Government of India will stand by you and hold your hand. The task before you is stupendous. There will be many hurdles, but there is no hurdle that cannot be solved through dialogue, determination and spirit of give and take,” he said.

Lashing out at the CPM and some regional outfits for objecting to the nomenclature of the GTA, Banerjee said, “They are indulging in politics over the name. They are indulging in false propaganda to create confusion among the people. They could not do anything (to resolve the Darjeeling problem) in the last 35 years. Let us do our work.”

Without naming the CPM, she said, “They are trying to pit Bengalis against the hill people. But this will not happen. We will remain together. Darjeeling is not outside Bengal.”

Welcoming the agreement, Gurung congratulated Banerjee for her sincerity and honesty in redressing the hill people’s legitimate demands. “The agreement marks a turning point. We hope that our demand for some ‘mouzas’ in the plains would also be fulfilled,” he said.

Slamming the Left government for doing nothing to develop the hills over the past 34 years, Gurung said that had the agreement materialised earlier, many lives would not have been lost. The CPM and several social organisations protested against the accord and said that by signing in the agreement both Chidambaram and Banerjee had sold themselves to the GJM. “It is virtually another partition of Bengal and will encourage other separatists organisations to demand separate states,” said Opposition leader Suryakanto Mishra, who boycotted the function.

The Amra Bangali, Jana Jagaran and Jaja Chetana, backed by the Adivasi Bikash Parishad, has called for a 48-hour bandh in the Terai and Dooars in the plains area against the signing of the treaty.

(With PTI inputs) 





HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Letters | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | E-mail |