Darjeeling hills deserted due to GJM's public curfew

Darjeeling, Aug 13 (IANS) As the 'public curfew' called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha crippled life in the Darjeeling hills, the party Tuesday said a unanimous decision has been taken to repeal the hill development body, Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) soon.

The West Bengal government, which has started distributing ration in the northern hills, said a "shutdown-like situation" prevailed in the hills on day one of the two-day "public curfew", during which the GJM has asked people to remain indoors.

The three hill sub-divisions -- Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong -- wore a deserted look, with internationally famous tourism hot spots like the mall, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and the Tiger Hills seemingly forlorn.

Home Secretary Basudeb Bandopadhayay, who visited this hill town Tuesday and held talks with top brass of the Darjeeling district administration and police, later said he will submit a report to the Calcutta High Court and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on the situation.

"I don't know about public curfew. I saw there was a shutdown-like situation in the hills. I shall give a report to the Calcutta High Court and the chief minister," Banerjee said in Siliguri.

In the wake of the GJM-sponsored indefinite shutdown since Aug 3 in the three sub-divisions, the Calcutta High Court last Wednesday directed the state government to ensure there is no forced shutdown, and asked it to submit a compliance report within seven days.

The government said it would increase the centres for distributing rations to 11 from Wednesday, when a large number of North Bengal State Transport Corporation buses would also hit the streets.

Meanhwile, the GJM is likely to pitch for Birkhu Bhushal as interim chief executive officer of GTA to fill up the post which fell vacant following party chief Bimal Gurung's resignation. Gurung quit July 30 to concentrate on the Gorkhaland movement.

The decision was taken at a GJM central committee meeting following Banerjee's assertion that if the second man in GTA does not take command after Gurung's resignation, her government would fill up the post.

With GTA Deputy Chief Executive Ramesh Ale not agreeing to take charge, there was much speculation the state government's nominated GTA member Durga Khorel may be appointed.

"The state has given us a letter to choose a chief executive in three days, otherwise the government will appoint their own chief executive. Do we want a chief executive of GTA to be from the state or someone from our own community?

"The issue of GTA and its chief executive is only for a limited period as our final goal is Gorkhaland," said Gurung.

Meanwhile, Gurung spoke of repealing the GTA in a Facebook post.

"The GTA will be repealed but at an appropriate time. In an all-party meeting (Monday) we have decided that GTA should be repealed soon. It was a unanimous decision taken by all parties," he said.

Armed with more powers than its predecessor - the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council formed in the late 1980s, GTA was created July 18, 2011 via a tripartite agreement signed between GJM and the state and central governments.

Following the central government's green signal for creation of a separate Telangana, the GJM intensified its separatist movement.

The chief minister Saturday issued a 72-hour deadline to GJM to withdraw the stir.

Claiming the ultimatum was by Calcutta High Court and not Banerjee, GJM said it would continue its stir but in accordance with the norms laid by the court.

GJM has announced a four-day relaxation, beginning Aug 15, in the indefinite shutdown to press for Gorkhaland.

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