GORKHA ADIVASI POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS: December date hint for set-up – Morcha offers ‘concessions’ – getting the nomenclature of diplo-speak right, so now, for the whole process to evolve without violence but plenty of protests and high alerts ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY VIVEK CHHETRI
WITH INPUTS BY NISHIT DHOLABHAI IN DELHI
Darjeeling, Nov. 1: Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief Bimal Gurung today met P. Chidambaram in Delhi to “clear the last hurdles” before the creation of an interim authority for the Darjeeling hills, which both sides agreed should be in place by December-end.
The Morcha chief also indicated to Chidambaram that his party would be “more flexible” on the contentious issues that had been dogging the talks so far.
The Morcha described today’s talks as “positive” and said all contentious issues related to the formation of the interim authority would be resolved in the next round of talks at the political level.
Home ministry sources also said the talks were “encouraging” and the Morcha leadership was showing “flexibility” so that the interim authority could be put in place soon. “We hope that it will be place by the end of the year,” a home ministry official said.
After the meeting with Chidambaram, Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri told The Telegraph: “The talks today were positive and we are very hopeful. We discussed all the contentious issues which would be taken up in the next round of political tripartite talks and are likely to be solved soon.”
Darjeeling MP Jaswant Singh accompanied the Morcha delegation of Gurung, Giri and party central committee member Jyoti Kumar Rai to the meeting with the Union home minister.
The four main issues that have so far been coming in the way of the interim authority are its territorial jurisdiction, its authority to manage the tea garden lands, the mode of selection of its members, and its legislative powers.
Party sources said Gurung today indicated to Chidambaram that the Morcha was willing to be “flexible” to sort out those issues which had appeared to be “intractable”. “The Morcha is keen that the interim authority is in place before the model code of conduct comes into force ahead of the Assembly elections,” a Morcha leader said.
The party has worked out a “formula” to resolve all the four issues, which it hopes would find acceptance with both the Centre as well as the Bengal government.
To resolve the problem of territorial jurisdiction, the Morcha would suggest the setting up of a “joint verification committee” in the next meeting. (*?!! – so Siliguri rightfully comes back under Darjeeling and the Dooars region has yet to, so the choice of the population of those regions is now to choose whether to come into the GRA or stay under Bengal ?!! )
“We will suggest that some mouzas of Siliguri be immediately transferred to the interim authority subject to the state government’s approval,” a Morcha leader said. “The rest of the territorial demands of the Morcha, related to the Dooars and the Terai, can later be examined by the joint committee to find out if they are justified.”
The Morcha has so far been insisting that the entire Dooars and Terai be included in the interim authority at the time of its formation.
Regarding the composition of the interim authority, the Morcha will scale down its demand and suggest that about 40 of the 50 members that it wants in the new set-up be nominated by the party only for the first year, followed by elections the next year. The rest of the members could be appointed by the governor.
So long, the Morcha had wanted to nominate all members of the interim authority for the entire tenure.
During the period when it has only nominated members, the interim authority would not exercise any legislative powers.
The Morcha hopes that the Centre and the state would agree to extend the authority of the interim set-up to tea garden lands as well.
As a further “concession”, the Morcha leader said, the party leadership would tell the government that only the elected board would take up the issue of the regularisation of the workers who are on contract in the DGHC.
“A meeting is on the cards with union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee for a special package so that the interim council can bear the financial burden of regularisation of the workers,” a Morcha leader said.
Also, the source said, the pact between the Centre, state and the Morcha would not be termed as a “memorandum of settlement” but “memorandum of understanding” since the interim authority would only be a temporary arrangement.
Morcha blockade for Dooars in set-up – peaceful but effective, till the stone-throwing starts ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, Nov. 1: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s Siliguri-Terai subdivisional committee today blocked NH55 on the Panchanoi bridge, demanding inclusion of the entire Darjeeling district and the Dooars in the interim set-up.
About 300 Morcha supporters from Salbari, Sukna, Simulbari, Champasari and Panighata converged at Pintail Village around 1pm and started marching towards Siliguri to submit a memorandum to the subdivisional officer there.
However, after moving hardly 400 metres, they were stopped by nearly 50 personnel from Pradhannagar and Siliguri police stations on the bridge, 6km from here.
The protesters, led by Morcha’s subdivisional committee convener Shankar Adhikary, member of the study forum P. Arjun, central committee member Sujit Karkidoli, then squatted on the highway.
They insisted that the SDO of Siliguri should come to the spot and receive the memorandum from them.
“Our ultimate goal is to get a separate state of Gorkhaland. Till that is achieved, the entire Darjeeling district, Terai and the Dooars should be included in the interim set-up,” Adhikary told reporters after being stopped by the police at Panchanoi.
Yesterday before leaving for Delhi, Morcha president Bimal Gurung iterated the demand for the inclusion of the Terai and the Dooars in the interim body and asked its supporters in the region to organise rallies and demonstrations to press for the demand.
Around 1.30pm, Gautam Ghosh, a magistrate, reached the spot and received the memorandum from the Morcha protesters on behalf of the Siliguri SDO.
The blockade was withdrawn 10 minutes later.
“We wanted to send a memorandum to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee through the subdivisional officer of Siliguri, demanding the inclusion of the entire Darjeeling district and the Dooars in the interim set-up. But as the police did not allow us to enter the town, we submitted our memorandum to the magistrate,” Adhikary said.
Asked if the government would not agree to their demand, the Morcha leader said 133 mouzas in the Terai and 196 mouzas in the Dooars were Gorkha-dominated areas. “These areas have to be included in the set-up,” Adhikary said.
Bloc youths block road for repair – Left ally slams kshiti – really axed their own consensus, did Bengal ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Jalpaiguri, Nov. 1: Hundreds of commuters, already inconvenienced by the daily bumpy rides on crater-filled north Bengal roads, were left stranded over 10 hours today as the Forward Bloc’s youth wing blocked NH31D at two points to protest the appalling condition of accident-prone highways.
Members of the Yuva League disrupted traffic at Gosala More and Paharpur More from 6am to 4pm.
The road blockades were the latest in a series of agitations by different organisations to protest the condition of NH55, NH31 and NH31D in Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and Darjeeling districts in the past eight months.
Hundreds of vehicles were brought to a standstill as more than 300 Yuva League members blocked NH31D linking Jalpaiguri to Siliguri and the Dooars. About 200 demonstrators courted arrest at Gosala More and Paharpur More, both located on the outskirts of Jalpaiguri, but the road blocks continued till 4pm.
“Our public works minister Kshiti Goswami had given an assurance that the roads would be repaired before Durga Puja. But nothing has been done. The rains have further damaged the surface of the highways. He had again promised to look into the condition of the roads while inaugurating a bridge here on October 25,” said Nihar Sarkar, the district general secretary of the Yuva League.
He said an intensified agitation demanding better roads would be launched after Diwali and even a bandh might be called if there was no positive development.
The department of public works under Kshiti Goswami of the RSP is in charge of NH55, NH31 and five state highways passing through north Bengal.
The minister had convened several meetings and promised speedy repair of the highways at least two times. He had said pits would be filled and the roads would be made suitable for traffic before the Pujas, but commuters still encounter problems as vehicles struggle to negotiate the craters.
Private bus owners have also warned of another strike after Diwali as Goswami has failed to keep the word. In September, the North Bengal Passenger Transport Owners’ Co-ordination Committee had withdrawn nearly 1,500 buses from roads during a 20-day-long strike, claiming that the bad highways had increased the maintenance cost of the vehicles. Nearly 1 lakh people were affected daily during the strike.
With the Yuva League announcing its blockade two-three days ago, many people took trains to reach Siliguri this morning. However, those who had to travel to the Dooars found it difficult to reach their destinations on time.
Dipak Sarker, an employee at the subdivisional office at Malbazar, had to ride his two-wheeler to reach the workplace. “I usually take a bus to reach my office. “But today, I rode my motorbike for over one-and-a-half hours to reach Malbazar,” he said.
The subdivisional engineer of the public health engineering department at Malbazar, Khetramohan Roy, was also stopped by the agitators from proceeding towards the destination. “I was supposed to go on an inspection in Malbazar, but I had to cancel the plans as the youths were adamant,” said Roy.
Standing beside a Bhutan government bus at Paharpur was Norbu Drukpa, a second year student of Sikkim Manipal University.
“I was returning to the university from my home in Phuentsholing when we were stopped at Paharpur at 11am. I and other passengers had to make do with tea and biscuits in small stalls along the highway. I will have to stay in Siliguri tonight as no buses will take me to the university after sunset,” said the student.
Superintendent of police of Jalpaiguri Anand Kumar said there was no untoward incident during the road blocks.
The project director of the National Highways Authority of India’s north Bengal region, R. K. Chowdhury, today said repair of the Dhupguri-Falakata stretch of NH31D would be taken up from the second week of this month.
He said funds for the repair of the stretch between Siliguri and Jalpaiguri had been sanctioned and Rs 5 crore would be required for the purpose.
“We will start repairing the road between Jalpaiguri and Mainaguri from this week and we have Rs 3.25 crore for that. Rs 91 lakh have been earmarked for the repair of a broken wooden bridge over the Torsa at Sonapur en route to Alipurduar,” said the project director.
Chowdhury said the work on the bridge would be taken up from the third week of November.