Darjeeling to have new administrative framework

The Times Of India
NEW DELHI: The Darjeeling Hill areas will soon have a new administrative set-up as the Centre on Tuesday decided to abolish the Darjeeling Gorkha
Hill Council (DGHC) — the body which has been involved in the affairs of the region for the last two decades.

Besides, the Centre also agreed to drop the existing proposal of the Gorkha Hill Council under the sixth schedule of the Constitution, which gives special status to certain areas in terms of administrative and functional autonomy.

The proposal — being opposed by the Bimal Gurung-led Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) — had been pending ever since the government introduced the concerned Bills in Parliament in 2007. The Bills were subsequently referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee which had also expressed reservation over the sixth schedule issue while asking the government to take the views of all concerned before taking any decision regarding the Darjeeling Hills area.

The decisions — interpreted as finally closing the chapter of Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) leader Subhas Ghising in favour of his detractor Bimal Gurung — were taken in a tripartite meeting held here among the Centre, West Bengal government and GJM.

Though the government did not promise anything about GJM’s long pending demand of statehood — Gorkhaland — during the talks, the Gorkha representatives termed the abolition of DGHC and dropping of the sixth schedule proposal as a step towards fulfilling their demand.

The government, on its part, announced the appointment of an interlocutor to carry forward the discussions. It was also decided that all the three parties will hold the fourth round of tripartite meeting in Darjeeling in December. So far, all the three rounds were held in the Capital.

In a bid to involve the agitating GJM in political process, the government also suggested that the Gorkha representatives take part in local level elections. Union home secretary G K Pillai said: “The Centre and the West Bengal government proposed that as an interim measure and to restore the democratic process, the elections to panchayat samitis, gram panchayats as well as municipalities be allowed to be held. GJM stated that they would consult and revert back to the state government.”

Referring to other concerns of GJM, Pillai said: “It was informed by the West Bengal government that portions of the Central Relief Funds and Special Central assistance amounting to Rs 70 crore were lying unutilised. It was agreed that a team of state government officials would be sent to Darjeeling to discuss the utilisation of these funds.”

Later, BJP MP from Darjeeling Jaswant Singh — who contested the parliamentary election with GJM support — said: “I hope that eventually these talks would lead to formation of Gorkhaland, which is the main demand of the Morcha.”

While the Gorkha delegation was led by Anmole Prasad, the West Bengal government was represented by a number of officials led by its chief secretary A Chakrabarty.

The Hills were on the boil for the first time during mid-1980s when GNLF leader Subhas Ghising came up with the statehood demand. He, however, later settled for the Hill Council following negotiations with the state and the Centre. GJM entered the scene much later and renewed the Gorkhas’ demand of separate state. It was also opposed to giving sixth schedule status to the region.

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