By Mahendra P Lama
Demand for a separate statehood comprising of Darjeeling district and the adjoining Dooars is over a century old. This region has very little to do with the state of West Bengal in terms of geographical features, natural resources, socio-cultural pattern and livelihood system. A separate state comprising of Darjeeling district and Dooars region will be most economically viable. This new state could also bring the comprehensive security to India. This would include military, environmental and human security.
The people of this region now have realised that the West Bengal Government would not be able to do any substantive development activity for them. Instead it has ruined the entire forest resources, cinchona plantation, tea industry, opulent biodiversity, rich human resources and most importantly all the traditional institutions. The economy of this region remains in tatters and unmanageably scattered. The traditional institutions have been systematically demolished. The setting up of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in 1988 in fact became a curse as it took Darjeeling back to the colonial period in every respect.
A separate Statehood will be a very viable entity on five very significant grounds. Firstly, this new state will be the only state in the country to have four international borders viz. with Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Nepal. Even if this new State simply undertakes cross border trade including through land customs at Phulabari, Phuntsoling, Jelep la and Pani Tanki respectively on a regulated framework, it could earn millions of dollars. As the regional and global trade scenario becomes more liberal and the cross border connectivity improves, these trade routes are likely to become robust and vibrant in very near future.
Secondly, this will be the only state where two topographically varied plantations and agricultural systems will be available. Tea , cinchona, floriculture, horticulture and direct access of these farm items to both national and international markets mostly towards the South East and East Asia through even ports like Chittagong and Mongla in Bangladesh and Sittway in Myanmar could have no parallels.
Thirdly, this will be the only state in the country where bio-diversity and scenic beauty led eco-tourism could be blended with educational and health services of a diverse range. If we are able to include Sidrapong power house the first hydel power project in Asia built in 1897 as heritage item, Darjeeling will be the only place where in such a small geographical location we will have two sites (other one is Darjeeling Himalayan Railway built in 1881) in the World Heritage list of UNESCO. This could bring lead to a huge foreign tourists influx. The schools and colleges in this region have attracted both national and international patronisations for more than a century now. The traditional knowledge based on cultural practices and rich biodiversity could lead to massive revenue and income mobilisations if they are scientifically and institutionally harnessed. The intellectual property like that of Jhankris, Phedangmas and persons like that of late Dr Pakhrin in Kalimpong could bring huge resources to the region by simply patenting and commercialising these unparallel knowledge base and practices.
Fourthly, this is one state where hydel-power resources have not been commercially harnessed in a big way. There are a range of local, national and international rivers that flow through this region. The hydel power could be used as a tradable item to supply power to rest of India and the neighbouring countries also. There is ample scope fro mini and ample hydel projects.
And finally, this new state will be the gateway to the entire North East region of India and of course an instrument to harness the opportunities triggered by India’s Look East Policy aimed at integrating with the South East and East Asian countries. The North East region will be out of the clutches of Hartals, Bandhs and other socio-political bottlenecks that characterise this chicken neck corridor today.
Darjeeling and Dooars as separate state will complete the definition of the North East region. If Assam and Sikkim are a part of North East region why not contiguously adjoining Dooars and Darjeeling. Similarly fulfilment of this statehood demand will also bring a wholesome address mechanism to the Indian Himalayan regions as today Darjeeling and Dooars are the only Himalayan region which donot have a state. This is unlike Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Assam, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh
The West Bengal Government in the last 60 years of post independence period neither have shown any vision to make use of the huge potentials of this strategically located region, nor have displayed any political commitment and will to bring this region into national mainstream. As a result, this potential new state has remained backward, den of all activities that hamper national security and people with deep rooted frustration. More seriously, the Bengal administration because of conscious act of dividing people on various grounds have turned out to be the finest practitioner and ace custodian of internal colonialism.
The people of this new State regardless of their ethnicity, ideology and social-economic backgrounds, donot expect this incapable and ineffective West Bengal Government to do anything substantive and meaningful in the coming years also. They are worried that whatever has remained in this region will be plundered and finished by the Bengal administration. More seriously, the people of this new state will like to contribute to the building of new India.
The only way to save this entire region of Darjeeling district and Dooars from being volatile and susceptible is to declare it as the 29th State of India. This will do wonders for national integration, security and development. This is why we all support this very democratic and just demand for a separate state.
[Prof Mahendra P Lama is an active member of the Civil Society of the Eastern Himalayan region]
Source: darjeeling times.com
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