FROM THE TELEGRAPH
|The Citu leader’s car parked at Pradhannagar police station on Wednesday after Morcha supporters in Sukna painted its number plates in black. Picture by Kundan Yolmo|
Siliguri, Aug. 27: Pradhannagar police today seized two vehicles with GL number plates on the outskirts of Siliguri and arrested their drivers, while the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters’ tactics of smearing black paint on WB plates in the hills sparked road blockades in the plains.
The law enforcers spotted a Bolero and a Maruti van sporting GL (for Gorkhaland) plates (GL-02A-3963 and GL-02A-2121, respectively) at Dagapur close to Darjeeling More in the morning and seized the vehicles. The owners, Praveen Sunam of Darjeeling and Roshan Pradhan of Sukhiapokhri, were arrested.
“We have brought charges of driving suspiciously against them,” said Rahul Srivastava, the superintendent of police of Darjeeling.
The district police chief added that steps would be taken against vehicles displaying GL number plates in the plains. “However, no instruction has reached us about taking similar steps in the hills,” he said.
Around noon, there was more trouble when Kanai Bhattacharya, a district-level Citu leader and the president of the Siliguri Forest Produce Carrying Contractors’ Welfare Association, returned from Sukna on the foothills, 10km from Siliguri, in his Maruti car with its WB number plates smeared in black.
“I was on my way to Sukna when some Morcha supporters intercepted me,” Bhattacharya said. “They did not pay any attention to our requests and put black paint on the front and rear number plates, saying vehicles with WB registrations would not be allowed to enter the hills.”
The Morcha, which is spearheading the revival of the Gorkhaland movement in the hills, has made it mandatory for all private and government vehicles registered in the Darjeeling district to sport “GL” number plates.
Bhattacharya’s supporters blocked Hill Cart Road – which connects Darjeeling to Siliguri – close to the Pradhannagar police station. The blockade was lifted after 30 minutes when officers from the police station intervened. Srivastava, too, rushed to the spot to meet Bhattacharya and his supporters.
“There was a tension as the number plates of a vehicle had been painted black. A complaint has been received and we are looking into it,” the district police chief said.
Morcha supporters in Sukna continued to paint WB number plates black throughout the day.
“Today, we closed our office offering GL registration to car-owners who wanted it and assembled at the Mirik More, stopping vehicles carrying WB number plates and painting them in black in protest,” said Raj Singh, the vice-president of the Sukna branch of Gorkha Janmukti Yuva Morcha. “So far, we have painted the number plates of at least 70 vehicles, mostly coming from Siliguri.”
Singh added: “Now, if anybody wishes to obtain GL registration, they can get it only from the Morcha central committee.”
The Morcha action in Sukna prompted members of the Citu-affiliated Darjeeling District Taxi and Private Car Drivers’ Association in Siliguri to hold a protest march in the afternoon and submit a memorandum to the additional district magistrate.
“We want immediate administrative steps against the Morcha supporters for forcibly blackening number plates and charging money for the so-called GL registration,” said association secretary Ajay Chakraborty. “Unless there is a change in the situation, none of our members will take their vehicles to the hills as they feel insecure.”
The association has nearly 200 members and most of them use private cars to ferry passengers to and from the hills. Unlike taxis, their vehicles are not exempt from the Morcha diktat.
Later in the day, two more vehicles were spotted in Siliguri with their number plates smeared in black and Hill Cart Road was again blocked for 20 minutes around 5.30pm.