Friday, September 5, 2014

DARJEELINGMAIL By Birendra Shandilya

State and GTA in turf battle for the Hills

With the events and announcements surrounding the West Bengal Chief Minister’s three-day visit to Kalimpong, it is evident that she remains keen to further tighten her grip on the Darjeeling Hills. Dual administration woes that had plagued the Darjeeling Hills during the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) days are back to haunt the Hills with the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) in a push a shove over turf with the state administration.
Even as GJM leaders point fingers at the State Govt for interfering with the functioning of the GTA, Mamata Banerjee, while speaking at Kalimpong, announced that a Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) will be set up in Darjeeling town.
Talking to media persons at Deolo Tourist Lodge above Kalimpong, Ms. Banerjee announced, “The CMO will be located adjacent to the existing District Information and Culture office in Darjeeling. A CMO staff will be posted there. Poor people from the Hills who cannot travel to either Kolkata or Uttarkanya (the CMO in Siliguri) can approach the CMO in Darjeeling for aid and relief which will be provided from the Chief Minister’s relief fund.”
This decision has been criticized by SS Ahluwalia, the BJP MP from Darjeeling.
“It is a purely political move. Even as the CMO in Siliguri has failed to address the encephalitis deaths in North Bengal and starvation deaths in the tea gardens, she plans to open a new CMO in Darjeeling. It would be more of a Trinamool Congress office than a CMO,” remarked Ahluwalia.
On 03 September, the CM went a step further and announced that a Steering Committee would be constituted with the Darjeeling District Magistrate at the helm. This committee, she said, will ensure the cleaning up and beautification of “jhoras” in order to attract tourists.
The Committee will also engage people under the MNREGA scheme. Expectedly this has sparked protest from the GTA camp as the GTA is in charge of handing out MNREGA projects and not the District Administration.
Ms. Banerjee was on a 3-day tour of the district. She arrived at Kalimpong on 01 September. The next day, a GTA delegation, led by Executive Member Roshan Giri, met her at Deolo Tourist Lodge before attending bipartite talks with the State Government at the Kalimpong Circuit House.
Despite two years having passed since the formation of the GTA, the transfer of powers and functions remains a slow process. Only 35 of the promised 59 powers and functions have been transferred to the GTA till date. The GTA has complained often of interference by the State administration in GTA’s functioning along with dilution of the transferred powers and functions by the State.
The GJM Chief Bimal Gurung had stated that 5 rounds of bipartite talks with the State have failed to deliver hence he has now pinned hopes on the Centre. The GTA has requested the Centre to intervene and hold a tripartite GTA review meeting. Mr. Gurung has made a number of trips to Delhi of late meeting Union Ministers.
Even the 6th round of bipartite talks held in Kalimpong failed to address many of the grey areas. “Out of the powers and functions which have been transferred there are numerous anomalies. We have submitted our observations regarding these anomalies. We will be sitting with individual departmental secretaries to resolve these issues,” stated Roshan Giri, Executive Member, GTA.
The issue of withdrawal of cases (as undertaken in the GTA agreement) slapped on the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders and supporters during the 44-month agitation for a separate state remains unresolved with the GJM requesting the State to expedite the process and the State assuring to do so.
Regarding the waiving of electricity bill arrears accrued during the GJM’s call for a non-cooperation movement during the Gorkhaland agitation, the State has proposed that defaulters will be allow the option to pay up in 12 installments. The arrears will not however be waived.
The only success at the Kalimpong bipartite talks was that the GTA managed to get a nod from the State regarding the release of Rs. 63 crore DGHC fund that had been frozen since the GTA had replaced the DGHC.
Meanwhile, the GTA has also demanded that the State immediately end the parallel administration regime in the Hills.
“There should not be dual jurisdiction. At present the Chief Medical Officer of Health is under both the State and the GTA. The same holds true for the Child Development Project Officer. The Block Development Officers (BDO) should be brought under the GTA,” stated Mr. Giri.
Fleshing out the complication, he points out that the role of BDOs revolves around the Panchayat. While Panchayati Raj is under the GTA, the BDOs are under the District Administration.
Despite all these shortcomings, the GTA team dubbed bipartite talks a “success” and requested the State to convene tripartite talks [inviting the Centre in as well] in the second week of October. “Issues like transfer of forests to the GTA; implementation of three-tier Panchayat in the GTA area; setting up of Central University and Technical colleges the Centre has to decide. Hence tripartite talks are necessary,” argues Mr. Giri.
Meanwhile, the GJM MLA from Kalimpong, Dr. Harka Bahadur Chettri, opined that the gap between the State and the GTA should be bridged for the GTA to run smoothly.
“Everything has to be done by the State and come through the State. Even the Special Central Assistance has to come through the State. The CM is ready to reconcile. Burying past difference she has time and again visited the Hills and has assured of all cooperation. We should give this a chance and work in close tandem with the State rather than rushing to Delhi time and again,” remarked Dr. Chettri.
And the CM did not fail to shower sops during her visit either. She flagged off 28 Government buses and handed out 100 non-refusal taxi permits for the Hills.
She laid the foundation stones of Tinchulay, Takdah Home Stay along with Eco Tourism and Orchid Centre under the Darjeeling Forest Division; Home Stay at Pokhriuatar and Chimney under Kurseong Forest Division. “As Darjeeling is getting congested, Kurseong and Kalimpong have to be developed. We have to create a new Darjeeling,” she said. Also on the list is a medical college in Kurseong along with four new hydel projects (three on the Teesta and one on Rammam.)
It is a tightrope walk for Bimal Gurung and his men. On the one hand, Mr. Gurung avoided meeting the CM during her trip to Kalimpong even as he sent her a note thanking her for the bipartite talks and apologizing for not being able to meet her as he had to attend to important business in Delhi.
The CM, who made it clear that she would continue to frequent the Hills, said, “The Darjeeling Hills beckon me. I have a strong tie with the Hills and her people. I will be back again during Dusserah”.

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