India’s tryst with destiny began at the stroke of midnight on 15th August 1947. It ushered in a new era wherein the belief that everyone is born free and has a right to fulfill one-self in human dignity was no longer a myth.
The framers of the Indian Constitution in their collective wisdom drafted Article 3 enshrined in which is the recognition of the fact that every community with different cultural and linguistic background has the inherent right to self determination, and to develop itself according to its own EHOS thereby enriching the cultural heritage of the community and enhancing its integration in the national mainstream. But little did they realise that for the Gorkhas ‘living in the Darjeeling, Dooars and the Terai region of North Bengal, the dawn of freedom was just a dream too far. It was only a change in the Colonial masters – from the British to the Bengal Raj – where exploitation and subjugation was many fold worse than before.
The contribution of the Indian Gorkhas in the making of a New India can never be undermined. The blood, sweat and sacrifice – be it in safeguarding the security and integrity of the frontiers or in maintaining peace and harmony in strife torn towns are forever etched in the history of the nation.
However, time and again, the Indian Gorkhas have been labeled by National as well as Regional political leaders as foreigner immigrants, secessionists and also as refugees. The very identity of the community is being questioned. In the presence of such a strong undercurrent, the ONLY solution is the creation of the state of GORKHALAND, within the Indian Union.
The demand for Gorkhaland is a corollary to the natural democratic process in India. In this demand is contained the aspirations of the community and its quest for the Right to Self Determination.
The issue confronting us is not a question of Development as envisaged by the Bengal Government. Economic packages and financial considerations – no matter how lucrative – are merely carrots being dangled before us with the intention of distracting us from our ultimate goal – Self Governance.
SELF GOVERNANCE – THE ONLY PATH TO SELF RELIANCE
It is only through self governance that sustainable development can take place. Development in the true sense of the term is not merely a creation of social capital by constructing roads, bridges and buildings. The most essential ingredient is PARTICIPATION of the people in determining its own priorities and actualizing felt needs. It is based on understanding the Ethos of the people. Development does not imply a situation where people are mere recipients. This is Charity and we are not beggars seeking alms.
We must be empowered to determine our fundamentally basic felt needs and on the basis of which Priorities, Plan, Budget, Finance, Execute and Administer ALL BY OUR-SELVES. We must have the authority to do what we think is the best for us. It must be remembered that responsibility without authority is meaningless. And PARTICIPATION denied is Development denied.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC VIABILITY OF GORKHALAND
Sitting in its own ivory tower, the Writers Building, the Government of Bengal has been devising plans to address the developmental issues of the hills and after 61 years of governance what do we find?
– No Vision Statement has been ever charted for this region.
The Bengal Government has failed to deliver through its total insincerity and apathy to this area. Once we have Gorkhaland we will transform the state to one of the richest and most viable states in the Indian Union. After all, we have the expertise in our midst, we have our pulse is on what concerns us, and above all, we have the resources that will catapult GORKHALAND into a Model State of the country.
RESOURCES – MISMANAGED BY THE BENGAL GOVERNMENT
In order to highlight the economic viability of this region it is important to put the efforts of the Bengal Government (or rather the lack of it) in the right perspective.
Introduced by the British 168 years ago, Darjeeling Tea is a Super Brand in the International market, thanks to the blood, sweat and tears of the Gorkhas providing one of the most crucial factors of production – man power. However, the utter indifference of the Bengal Government towards the only industry of this region has resulted in the dwindling of the number of Tea gardens from 90 to 76. The workers live in the most deplorable conditions, with the daily wages for an eight hour labour being Rs 53.90. Compare this with the daily wages in tea gardens in Kerala (Rs. 70/-), Tamilnadu (Rs 78/-) and neighbouring Sikkim (Rs 88/-) and the picture is self evident. Darjeeling tea – the Champagne of Teas’ must be the only Superbrand where the most important factor of production, the labour force, is leading an abysmal quality of life in abject poverty.
The increasing tendency to recruit people from outside for managerial and executive posts leaving the menial jobs to the hill people reeks of discrimination. The Bengal Government has never tried to alleviate the aspirations of the young generation of the hills by establishing a link between them and the so called biggest industry. In fact, the Tocklai Tea Research Centre and the Tea research Laboratory in Kurseong bear no significance to the people from the hills.
Moreover, practically each and every garden has its head office outside the hills. Consequently, opportunities and facilities arising there from never percolate down to the people whose blood and sweat have made the industry what it is today. Even the Tea Auction centers at Siliguri and Jalpaiguri are like white elephants for the hill people.
Hence, it can be said with conviction that the Tea industry has no definitive bearing in the economy of the region besides providing disguised employment. With the companies shying away from their social responsibilities, it is a bane rather than a boon.
But the bottom line is that Darjeeling tea fetches millions of dollars to the Government in the form of foreign exchange and forms a major source of revenue.
Properly managed and marketed, the tea industry made up of the gardens of Darjeeling and Dooars will combine to form the prime economic backbone of Gorkhaland.
Under the accelerated Hill Development Programme, Plans and Strategies launched in 1973-74, development of infrastructure to boost Tourism was drawn up. 35 years since its inception a cursory glance at the basic infrastructure such as roads, water, fundamental health facilities, electricity, communication and public transport tells a sad tale of its own.
Darjeeling with all its shortcomings is still a haven for tourists both domestic and foreign. Imagine the possibilities with a reinvented Darjeeling!
In spite of its lackadaisical attitude it is the Government that stands to benefit in terms of revenue generated by the hundreds of thousands streaming into Darjeeling month after month.
Once the state of Gorkhaland becomes a reality we shall re-crown the ‘Queen of the Hills’ and then open our arms to all to be our guest on the Paradise of Earth.
The Darjeeling hills once upon a time, could boast of a rich and vibrant forest cover which was an environmentalist’s delight. But avarice personified by the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation formed in 1971 (ironically to develop the forest as the name suggests) denuded the hills of its finery. And when the dense forest of the hills vanished so did the WBFDC after killing the golden goose and plundering the hills of 38 thousand crores during its decade long existence. Properly managed, this too can still be one of the main pillars of the region’s economy, all that is required is for the mantel to pass on to the rightful owners.
This region has been the prime education destination in the country since 1846. If these institutions still rub shoulders with the best in the country it is purely due to their own initiative. The Government’s contribution draws a woeful cipher.
Higher education for professional courses and vocational training centres are areas which have been neglected the most by the Government and this has resulted in mounting unemployment – the perfect breeding ground for frustrated youth resorting to anti-social outlets. The pleas for providing quotas in Medical, Engineering and Management Institutes have been conveniently bypassed and the crying need for the establishment of a Central Hill University has fallen on deaf ears. There is surely a sinistrous design behind this. After all, isn’t educational emancipation a threat to Colonial suppression?
The State of Gorkhaland will give birth to a self sustainable education system which will be a product of integrated development and also become a financial boon to the coffers of the new state.
This piece of engineering marvel does precious little to supplement the economy of the place predominantly owning to the Government’s lack of vision and the clever manipulation of excluding local stakeholders in the planning process. Despite the fact that it is a massive drain in the Government’s exchequer, it still chugs along incurring huge losses. If it had not been for the efforts of lovers of Darjeeling it would not have found a place in UNESCO’s World Heritage site. Given its potential it can be transformed to a most viable business proposition, but then who is there to feel for the ‘Tiny’ which is such an integral part of the local folklore?
The stat of Gorkhaland is waiting impatiently to rewrite its role.
HYDEL PWER POTENTIAL
Darjeeling boasts of the oldest Hydel Power station in Asia. The Sidrabong Hydel Power Station was established in 1897, long before the Japanese and Koreans discovered wealth in their water reserves. Darjeeling town was richly illuminated, come rain or storm, until the west Bengal State Electricity Board took over. With the REVERSE ‘Midas Touch’ the fairy tale town faded into inevitable darkness.
The Rammam hydel project designed to produce 300 MW of power is churning out a meager 50 MW that too 25 years after it was commissioned. (The Chukha Hydel project started around the same time is producing 10 times more electricity). What is even more devastating is the fact that the power is taken to the North Bengal Switch Yard 240 kms away and the hills folks freeze in the cold wintry days deprived of heater connections.
The NHPC projects harnessing Teesta at 27the Mile, Kalijhora and Mungpoo envisage a projected capacity of 130 MW 110 MW and 340 MW respectively. What is going to be our share is anybody’s guess.
This will constitute the new State’s major revenue earning source in the forthcoming years.
Set up in 1865, the cinchona plantation is another example of the perfect amalgamation of British entrepreneurship and Gorkha work force. In 1948, the Bengal Government earned Rupees 30 lakhs from quinine alone. In 1984-85 the revenue was 2.43 crores according to the Government’s own admission. Then why is it now a sick industry? It is because the policy, management and sale rests solely with the Writer’s Building whose indifference is the primary cause for its untimely demise.
Tremendous untapped potential exists in the following areas – Agro horticulture products, animal husbandry, poultry farming, pisciculture, sericulture, cultivation of mushroom, orange orchards, spices especially cardamom, beekeeping, fruit processing plants, extraction of oil from ginger and cardamom, cane and bamboo furniture, small scale and cottage industries, handmade paper factories, local handicraft manufacturing units, carpet weaving and manufacturing units etc. All this will be specifically incorporated in the Blueprint for Economic Viability of the new state.
Sixty one years of suppression and deprivation when the rest of the communities in the country are reaping the fruits of Freedom have taken its logical toll on the Gorkhas. The writings on the wall are evident for those to choose to see. There is only one solution to alleviate the people from its deep sense of insecurity and also actualize the seemingly infinite potential of the region. The answers to both lie singularly in one practical move and that is the creation of the state of GORKHALAND.
Published in http://www.darjeelingtimes.com