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November 22, 2013

Morcha gives up Gorkhaland demand, thanks WB CM for development initiatives

The much talked about tripartite meeting on Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) today concluded with the West Bengal government agreeing to form a committee to explore regularisation of GTA`s adhoc staff and the Centre stating that it would send an Environment Ministry team to Darjeeling to study the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha`s (GJMM) demand for bringing reserve forests under the GTA purview.    

Both the GJMM and the state government termed the near two-hour meeting held at state secretariat Nabanna in Howrah as “very cordial and fruitful“. The GJMM said that the thrust now was on to run the GTA effectively so as to ensure all round development of the Darjeeling Hills.     

A five-member GJMM delegation, led by party general secretary Roshan Giri; Union Home Ministry`s additional secretary K S Skandan and director Centre-State Relations Ashok Jain and the West Bengal Chief Secretary Sanjay Mitra and Home Secretary Basudev Banerjee attended the meeting.      

Among other crucial decisions taken at the tripartite meeting are that the Centre will explore the possibility of amending the Constitution to introduce a three-tier panchayat system in the Darjeeling Hills, the GTA with the help of any chamber of commerce will prepare an incentive plan to encourage investment in Darjeeling that will be put up for the Centre`s nod and that the Centre will expedite the possibility of granting tribal status to everyone in the Hills but the scheduled castes. 

The state government has also agreed to revive the Fact Finding Team that was instituted to study the report of the Justice Shyamal Sen Committee on inclusion of additional areas in the GTA and explore and expedite the disposal of cases lodged against GJMM activists prior to the inking of the GTA agreement. 

The GJMM sought a one-time grant of Rs 553 crore for construction of GTA administrative offices and residential quarters but the state asked them to “recast the DPR“ so as to make it rational. The Centre has assured expediting the setting up of a Central university, a National Institute of Technology and a Sainik School in Darjeeling Hills after the GJMM said that they have identified land for the same. Also, the Centre has agreed to explore the possibility of providing the Backwards Region Grants Fund (BRGF) to Darjeeling after the GJMM raised the demand.

“The proposed committee that will explore the regularisation of GTA adhoc staff will be headed by the state Finance Secretary and will have as members, the GTA Principal Secretary and a GTA councillor,“ said state Home Secretary Mr Basudev Banerjee. “As regards the visit by a Union Environment Ministry team to study the feasibility of bringing reserve forests in the GTA fold, the state government shall wait for its findings before giving its opinion on the matter.“

Mr Banerjee said that in the next 15 days several departmental secretaries would be touring Darjeeling to thrash out whatever minor hiccups might be there with regards to smooth transition of powers and responsibilities to the GTA. 

The GJMM general secretary, Mr Giri, said: “Today`s meeting was very good and we are looking forward to the next round of tripartite talks in mid-January next year.“