Darjeeling on the boil, again, CM hardens his stand

Kolkata, June 10 Hundreds of tourists were trying to head out of Darjeeling in West Bengal as the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), which is demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland, enforced an indefinite bandh, shutting down the hills and leaving an estimated 10,000 plus stranded in the plains. Sikkim was also cut off with GJM supporters blocking the arterial National Highway 31A.
Violence was reported from neighbouring Jalpaiguri district and at least 350 people were arrested. Authorities said a special train would ply from New Jalpaiguri railway station to Howrah tonight. Darjeeling District Magistrate Rajesh Pandey said most tourists began leaving Darjeeling yesterday. Transport was off the roads in the hills.
West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the GJM must give up its demand for Gorkhaland. “Tripartite or bipartite talks are possible only if they give up their demand for a separate state. Until then no talks are possible,” he told reporters in Kolkata.
Bhattacharjee said he had suggested more autonomy with administrative and financial powers for the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council during his recent talks with the GJM. The council manages the administration in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong hill sub-divisions.
“Barring the statehood demand, we are prepared to discuss with them any other issue,” he said. A majority of people in Dooars, Terai and Siliguri — which the GJM has demanded be included in Gorkhaland — are opposed to the statehood demand, he said.
At Kalchini, about 60 agitators attacked a police jeep and assaulted the driver. They also blocked roads at Kalchini, Odlabari, Birpara and Nagrakata. Police cleared road blocks at Birpara. GJM general secretary Roshan Giri claimed that CPM activists beat up party supporters at Birpara and Kalchini, ransacked a GJM office and set afire some motorcycles.
Tourists felt the brunt of the latest GJM showdown with the state. Despite earlier assurances by GJM leaders that they would be “completely safe” in the hills, tourists were running from pillar to post, desperate to leave Darjeeling.
An estimated 40,000 tourists were present in Darjeeling and Sikkim on Monday, the numbers high as this is the last week of summer vacations in most schools and colleges.
In Darjeeling, tourists have been on the move since last night. Taxi drivers who usually charge Rs 1500-2000 for a trip to Siliguri were demanding up to Rs 6,000.
“We have to charge double as once we reach Siliguri, we won’t get passengers on the way back. We are doing good business on the Siliguri-Kolkata sector. This morning, we sold 50 bus tickets for Kolkata,” said Pradeep Saha of Hill Queen Tours in Siliguri.
Police assisted tourists in reaching Siliguri where hotels ran out of rooms quickly.
“We refused at least 100 walk-in guests. People checked in at odd hours of the night,” said Vikash Kothari, Regional Director, Sinclairs Group. Authorities at Mainak Hotel faced the same problem.
Many tourists had to spend the night at the bus terminus or the railway station.
The Sikkim Tourism Department arranged for transfer of tourists to Siliguri in Army vehicles.
“Tourist vehicles are not being allowed beyond Melli. The Sikkim Tourism Department is trying to negotiate with GJM activists to lift the picketing at Melli. But I don’t think vehicles will be allowed to cross Melli for another 24 hours,” said Gyamsko Bhutia, Tourist Officer of the Sikkim government.
Tour operators in Kolkata also took a hit as many cancelled plans to visit the hills. Tourism Minister Manabendra Mukherjee said: “Many people in Darjeeling and Sikkim survive on tourism. This kind of an indefinite strike will result in heavy losses. The West Bengal government has arranged for additional trains and buses for stranded tourists.”
About ten companies of the central security forces were rushed to Darjeeling today.
Six of these would be deployed in the hills and four in the foothills in Siliguri and other sensitive areas of the plains,accoriding to a senior police official.
The state home secretary, A.M.Chakrabarty when contacted said that the state had asked for adequate central forces in view of the recent developments. (Expressindia)

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