The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration is finally in place, a little more than a year after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took the initiative and got the GTA agreement signed. It marks the fulfilment of one of her key electoral promises in the face of some scepticism over whether it was a feasible target. The GTA, with Bimal Gurung of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha as its chief executive, has even got from the Central government Rs. 200 crore at the outset for development activity. Logically speaking, the Darjeeling region should now be able to put behind it the period of turmoil. But it has to be seen how far, and for how long, the GJM would be able to resist any pressures to bring back the pitch for ‘Gorkhaland.’ The sagacity and maturity that the GJM is able to muster is what will decide the developmental future of the region, which faces a multitude of woes. These include power and water shortages, inadequate infrastructure development and lack of employment avenues. These are some of the sectors in which the Subhas Ghising-led Gorkha National Liberation Front let down the region during its 23-year-long reign from 1988. The GNLF used divisive slogans as leveraging points to strike bargains for itself — and was finally hoist with its own petard. It is to be hoped that under the GJM, the autonomous administrative body would not go down the same slippery path. If the GJM is still secretly nursing the dream of a separate state, and is only keeping the demand on the backburner until it is politically opportune to revive it, that will be bad news.
The territorial delineation of the GTA remains to be fixed, and the question of bringing the tribal areas within its jurisdiction hangs fire. A majority of residents in Siliguri and parts of the Dooars and Terai regions on the plains of north Bengal have not come to terms with moves to attach them to the GTA. As the Fact-Verification Committee appointed by the State government to review the recommendations of the Shyamal Sen Committee works its way through this tricky thicket, it needs to be ensured that more feathers are not ruffled than have been smoothened out. “We’re happy that finally Darjeeling is going to have a direction to peace and development,” said Ms Banerjee at the August 4 function where GTA members took their oath. For a region that has suffered from neglect and is poor in infrastructure despite its enormous potential, enlightened administration is essential. All stakeholders — including the political parties and the West Bengal and Central governments — must ensure that the people of the Darjeeling hills are not cheated out of their right to development.