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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Political panel to discuss hill ... No talks if violence..

TT, New Delhi, Feb. 22: The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs today decided to set up a “political committee” to deliberate upon the demand for the separate state of Gorkhaland as well as explore if the DGHC should be replaced by another body with more executive powers.

At its meeting today, the CCPA asked the home ministry to request political parties to name their representatives for the “political committee”. It is not clear whether GNLF chief Subash Ghisingh, the first DGHC administrator, will be invited to be part of the committee. The president of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, Bimal Gurung, had been a close lieutenant of Ghisingh till he broke away, floated his own outfit and chased away the GNLF chief from the hills.
Sources said the committee was being constituted as the Centre, the Bengal government and the Morcha believed that the problem could not be solved at the bureaucratic-level but needs political intervention. Union home secretary G.K. Pillai and senior Bengal bureaucrats have negotiated with the Morcha leaders during the four rounds of tripartite talks held so far.
Railway minister Mamata Banerjee who attended the CCPA meeting refused to speak to the media after the parley. Sources, who attended the session, said the Trinamul Congress chief had vehemently opposed a separate Gorkhaland state. Sources quoted Banerjee as having said Gorkhaland was an impossibility considering that all major political parties from Bengal were against it.
The home ministry will decide upon the committee’s terms of reference in the days to come. The ministry had earlier this month constituted a committee headed by Justice (retired) B.N. Srikrishna to look into the demands of the separate Telangana state.
Ministry sources said Morcha leader Gurung had realised that it was virtually impossible for the Centre and the Bengal government to agree to Gorkhaland and needed a face- saver to bring down the political temperature in the hills. “There is little likelihood of a separate Gorkhaland. All that can be conceded to the DGHC is some more area and executive powers. It is something that the committee will look into,” said a source.
The last round of tripartite talks was held on December 23. The Morcha had demanded the fifth round within 45 days. But the CCPA has not yet decided on the date yet.
There is near unanimity among Bengal’s major political parties and the Centre that a separate Gorkhaland is not possible. Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had rejected the demand during the chief ministers’ conference in New Delhi earlier this month. He had offered to give more powers to the DGHC or any other council that would replace it.
Central force to keep vigil on Sikkim lifeline
TT, Feb. 22: Two companies of the CRPF arrived in Siliguri from the Northeast today to be deployed along NH31A, the lifeline to Sikkim, following Supreme Court directives.
While one company — each company comprises around 100 to 120 personnel — has reached Pintail Village in Dagapur on the outskirts of Siliguri, the other has been billeted in the state police lines near Darjeeling More. The third one is on the way.
The inspector-general of police, north Bengal, K.L. Tamta, said the CRPF personnel had been specifically sent to keep NH31A (runs between Sevoke and Gangtok) free from blockades round-the-clock.
“There were instructions from the judiciary to keep the highway open all times and these companies have come with specific instructions from the central government to keep this stretch of the national highway open,” Tamta said. “We have thought of deploying the three companies at Rangpo on the Bengal-Sikkim border, at Rambhi located on the highway in Kalimpong subdivision and in Siliguri.”
Police sources said senior officials were in the process of trying to get a platoon of the central force each for Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. “Discussions are on as to whether some of them could be deployed in the three hill subdivisions as well,” a source said.
In Writers’ Buildings today, Bengal chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti said he would be in Siliguri on February 26 to discuss how to keep NH31A open at all times. “I will meet the chief secretary of Sikkim and Union cabinet secretary K. M. Chandrashekhar in Siliguri to discuss what steps needed to be taken to keep the highway open,” he said.
Since 2005, the Supreme Court has been asking the Bengal government, the Centre and political parties that call strikes in the Darjeeling hills not to block the movement of vehicles on the highway. In recent times, it had also served a notice on the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha after a petition was filed by O.P. Bhandari, a resident of Sikkim, against the NH31A shutdown.
Ever since the Gorkhaland agitation was launched by the GNLF in 1986, Sikkim has been at the receiving end with the highway getting blocked frequently during bandhs called by political parties.
Sukna arson pitches Morcha against cops
TT, Siliguri, Feb. 22: Policemen were seen today salvaging whatever they could from the debris of the Sukna outpost that had been set on fire by local people last night.
Eighteen people, including a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader and 12 women, were arrested in connection with the arson and sent to 14 days’ judicial custody by a court here today. Two students were also among the arrested. 
Amit Lama — whom Sukna residents wanted to be arrested for allegedly murdering a woman — was also sent to jail.
The mob torched the police outpost, demanding that Amit be brought to Sukna from Pradhannagar police station in Siliguri, where he had surrendered yesterday evening.
In the morning, police officers, including superintendent of police of Darjeeling D.P. Singh and additional superintendent of police of Siliguri Gaurav Sharma, reached Sukna, 10km from here, and took stock of the situation.
Apart from the outpost, a car was also set ablaze by the group, demanding that Lama be brought to Sukna from Pradhannagar police station in Siliguri where he had surrendered yesterday evening.
Constables rummaged through the remains of the outpost and picked up half-burnt files, butts of rifles and cartridges.
Asked about the role of the Morcha in the incident, Singh said: “We cannot say for sure that the Morcha was involved in the arson. However, we have information that some Morcha supporters were present when demonstrations were going on in front of the outpost.”
Vishal Chhetri, one of the arrested persons, is a former convener of the Dooars-Terai committee of the Morcha.
Singh said the police were yet to obtain a list of items lost in the fire. “Once the debris is cleared, we will begin the task of putting in place necessary infrastructure.”
Shops and establishments were shut in Sukna today, but traffic was normal.
Of the two arrested students, one studies at Surjya Sen College in Siliguri, while the other at North Bengal University.
The 18 people were brought to the additional chief judicial magistrate’s court in the afternoon. As the policemen guided them to the court lock-up, supporters of the Rashtriya Shiv Sena shouted anti-Gorkhaland slogans. They dispersed after 10-15 minutes.
The accused were represented by four lawyers. While Abhaypada Chatterjee, one of the defence counsels, said the police had arrested innocent women, government lawyer Subrata Saha objected to the bail petitions.
Lama was also produced in the same court and remanded in 14 days’ judicial custody. He did not engage a lawyer to argue for him in court.
Speaking to journalists, family members of the 18 accused persons said the police had entered their houses and forcibly taken them away. “We were at home when the police suddenly came and took away my sister. They said she was involved in the arson,” said Nandita. “We have no idea how this happened.”
Morcha leaders continued to distance themselves from the violence
“The allegation against the Nari Morcha is baseless. The Morcha or any of its affiliates was not part of the vandalism at Sukna. We feel it was the handiwork of some outsiders,” said Dina Rai, a Nari Morcha leader from Sukna.

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