Appeal for calm, firmness on visits

Sukna (Siliguri), Feb. 12: North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb today appealed for calm in the hills after his return from Kalimpong where he faced black flags but he also said that state ministers would keep visiting the region despite protests.

Deb told journalists in Sukna, about 10km from Siliguri, that he would continue visiting the hills.

"Some people have showed me black flags in Kalimpong and Chitray and have also shouted slogans while surrounding my car. Though they were not holding flags of any party, we know that Morcha is the only party that dominates the hills," he said.

However, he said: "I do not consider it to be a major incident and would like to reaffirm that even if we have to confront protests and showing of black flags in hills, we would not stay back in the plains. We have been visiting the hills on a regular basis and will keep on doing so, as and when required. I would like to appeal to all those who had resorted to such demonstrations to act sensibly, stay calm, maintain peace and work for development of the hills. The state government is keen on expediting the development process and we want the GTA Sabha representatives, who have been elected by people, to act responsibly and meet aspirations of the masses."

Deb had gone to the hills last Saturday, when the Morcha had called a 12-hour general strike to protest the formation of the Lepcha development board under the state government. The minister had sent feelers through the media to the Morcha for talks, but nothing had come of it.

Today, he said: "The GTA is a much higher body than the Lepcha development board and the two cannot be compared."

The minister, while speaking in Sukna, trained his guns at the Congress and held the party responsible for "inciting people in the hills".

Deb's ire may be directed at Darjeeling district Congress chief Shankar Malakar, who met Bimal Gurung yesterday and assured him of all support from the Centre if the Morcha had trouble in running the GTA.

"We feel the action of the Congress is inciting people in hills. The party, which is at the Centre, has endorsed the GTA agreement and act while on the other hand, it had sent representatives to an all-party meeting (called by the Morcha over the issue of Gorkhaland) in the hills," Deb said.

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