Even as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee assured the people of the Darjeeling hills that their demands would be met and urged them to refrain from getting into a conflict with the government, the spectre of a separate Gorkhaland loomed over the swearing-in of the elected and nominated representatives of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) Sabha here on Saturday.
Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) president Bimal Gurung addressed the gathering as the people of “Gorkhaland,” and said the newly-elected representatives would work to usher in development and peace for those who live in the “Gorkhaland region.” After they were sworn in, most of the members of GTA Sabha hailed “Jai Gorkhaland” from the podium. The GJM leadership used the word “Gorkhaland” repeatedly, but avoided mentioning the party’s earlier demand for a separate State. The GJM leadership has already stated that it isn’t giving up on its demand for a separate State.
The Darjeeling hills have been on the boil in recent years, with a series of agitations and bandhs called by the GJM. On July 18 last year, a tripartite treaty was signed among the Centre, the State government, and the GJM and it paved the way for the setting up of the GTA — a development for which Ms. Banerjee takes the credit, for “having restored peace to Darjeeling in three months” (since her government came to power). “The process that began on July 18 has reached its final conclusion with the swearing-in of all members of the GTA Sabha,” said Chief Secretary Samar Ghosh.
Governor M.K. Narayanan administered the oath of office to Mr. Gurung, as the Chief Executive of the GTA Sabha and the remaining members were sworn in by Home Secretary Basudeb Banerjee.
Announcing a slew of projects for the Darjeeling hills, Ms. Banerjee said that while the Centre had already committed itself to the allocation of Rs. 200 crore every three years to the GTA, the State government would also provide funds to the body.
Ms. Banerjee said the State government had sanctioned more than Rs. 100 crore in two instalments of Rs. 84 crore and Rs. 23 crore for various infrastructure projects in the hills. A State university would be set up in Darjeeling. “According to the GTA agreement, you [the representatives of the GJM] should raise the issue with the Centre. But since you have raised the demand with us, a university will be set up in the hills in the next two-three years,” she said.
Ms. Banerjee also announced setting up three industrial training institutes (ITIs), two polytechnics and a hospital in the hills.
The State government had already announced a concession on the taxes that were due from the people in the hills during the course of the agitation.
A large crowd had gathered at the Darjeeling Chowrasta where the ceremony was held, and cheered the newly-elected members as they were sworn in.
Big responsibility: Shinde
Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, addressing the GTA Sabha, said: “You have a big responsibility now. We have given you the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration and it is your responsibility to administer it properly. You have to look after the roads, tourism and work for the most backward people in the region.”
He assured the people that funds would not be a problem for the GTA if the regional autonomous body worked properly for the region’s development.
Urging the GTA Sabha to work for providing employment to people living in the three subdivisions of Darjeeling district, Mr. Shinde said that, as requested by the GJM leadership, the rules on physical pre-requisites would be relaxed for the region’s youth for recruitment in Central Police Forces.
Referring to the agitation in the hills during the last few years, West Bengal Chief Secretary Samar Ghosh said that with the formation of a new body there came an “enormous responsibility on the GTA to live up to the expectations of the people in the hills.”
“The GTA Act has given maximum autonomy to the GTA, which has sufficient executive, financial and administrative powers. It is now necessary to exercise power in a more prudent and effective manner,” Mr. Ghosh said at the event.