Greater autonomy for Darjeeling district

The following report on the new political settlement in the hill areas of West Bengal comes from

By Pradipta Tapadar

Sukna (West Bengal), July 18 (IANS)Sukna (West Bengal), July 18 (IANS) An elated Roshan Gurung, 60, who runs a teashop, was Monday looking forward to peace, development and that crucial stamp of “identity” ahead of a historic tripartite agreement for the Darjeeling hills.

“We are very happy about the agreement. We suffer from identity crisis. I hope this treaty will bring peace and development in the hills,” said Gurung, a Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) supporter in Darjeeling district.

However, he and many others wished the demarcation of Gorkha majority areas in the Terai plains and Dooars region – which are also part of Darjeeling, besides the hills – had been carried out before the treaty was signed here between the GJM, the West Bengal government and New Delhi.

Gorkhas are the dominant ethnic community in the Darjeeling hills where a lot of people were euphoric Monday, hoping the treaty would solve their problems of unemployment, underdevelopment and poverty.

“We are happy because this treaty means more development and employment. There has been no basic teacher recruitment since 2000. We are unemployed even after receiving teacher’s training,” said B.M. Bariely, president of the Unemployed Trained Basic Teacher’s Association.

“We want better education for our children. This agreement is key to that dream. We don’t want tension in the hills. We want peace and a better future,” said Binod Rai.

At the core of the Darjeeling agreement is the formation of a new autonomous elected Hill Council Gorkha Territorial Administration (GTA), which is armed with more powers compared to its predecessor Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) formed in the late 1980s.

A nine-member high powered committee, comprising four members each from GJM and the state government and one from the central government, will be formed to study the GJM’s demand on demarcating Gorkha majority areas in the Terai (the plains of Darjeeling district) and Dooars (foothills covering parts of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts) for inclusion in the council.

“What if they (state and central governments) don’t give us any area after the demarcation committee in case of a report against area demarcation? The treaty should have been signed after area demarcation was done,” said Sujan Rai, an ex-serviceman.

He took active part in the agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland to be carved out of Darjeeling and parts of neighbouring Jalpaiguri district.

The Darjeeling hills have periodically been on the boil for about three decades after the demand for Gorkhaland covering parts of northern Bengal gained momentum during the 1980s.

“We want nothing less than Gorkhaland. This treaty is a temporary solution. We want our own identity. We are not outsiders. We are Indians. Only a separate state will solve the problem,” said Ramesh Rai, a small-time businessman in the Darjeeling district hills that comprises the three sub-divisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.

But by and large there was a sense of hope. The GJM leadership seemed very happy.

“I am certain this agreement will have a positive impact in the region. The DGHC (Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council) had no functional powers but this body will fulfil the demand of greater autonomy to the region,” said Urmila Rumaba, core committee member of the GJM’s Nari Morcha.

The Gorkhaland movement took off under the leadership of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) supremo Subash Ghising. But the reins of the movement were taken over by the Bimal Gurung-led GJM, which forced Ghising out of the hills.

The three-decade long anti-government protests have witnessed killings, police crackdowns, long shutdowns which severely impacted the hill’ economic mainstays – tea, timber and tourism. The people are hoping this will be reversed.

“We want development of the hills, both in terms of the tourism business and tea gardens. We are happy that this agreement will usher in the long pending development of the hills,” said Romila Thapa, a resident of the area.

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