Jalpaiguri, Sep 12 (IANS) West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday stressed on finding a permanent solution to the crisis in the state’s northern hills and announced sops for various sections of the people during a meeting with parties from the region here.
Describing the meeting held at the state’s northern secretariat Uttarkanya as “positive”, she called for lifting the indefinite hill shutdown, which has been continuing for 89 days.
The next round of meetings would be held on October 16, she declared.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and other hill-based parties including Gorkha National Liberation Front, Jana Andolan Party and Akhil Bhatatiya Giorkha League which took part in the deliberations, sought a tripartite meeting – involving them and the central and state government – on their demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland.
However, the state government argued that it was not in a position to commit on the issue now.
“They have raised the issue of a tripartite meeting. I have said we can’t commit now. Because the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (hill development body) which had the provision of tripartite talks, is now not an elected body, but one run administratively. So we have to look into the legal issues,” Banerjee said.
“We want the shutdown to be lifted completely. In democracy, dialogue process, negotiation – these are very important.
“Hills are in our heart. We want a permanent solution. The people in the hills also have their sentiments,” she said.
Responding to a 17-point memorandum submitted by Binay Tamang, who leads one GJM faction and has been expelled by party chief Bimal Gurung, Banerjee urged government employees to join duty in the hills within 15 days.
“Whoever joins by September 25 will get one month Durga Puja advance,” she announced.
Banerjee also promised to restore the public distribution system completely as early as possible once normalcy returned in the hills.
With classes disrupted in the schools there due to the turmoil, she announced that a special allowance would be given to the teachers for a year for taking classes during winter.
Banerjee said a Group of Ministers have been formed on the issue of paying minimum wages to the tea garden workers and the Chief Secretary would hold talks with owners for reopening closed tea gardens.
The second phase of all party meeting was held amid massive differences among the GJM leadership over the withdrawal of shutdown and the future course of Gorkhaland movement.
After attending the first phase in Kolkata on Augist 29, Tamang, GJM’s chief coordinator, announced the withdrawal of shutdown for 12 days starting September 1 but this was opposed by a section of party leadership including party chief Gurung.
Announcing that the shutdown would continue, GJM expelled Tamang and his fellow party leader Anit Thapa on September 1 on the charges of conspiring with the state government to derail the Gorkhaland movement.
Infighting within the GJM was exposed once again as Tamang and Gurung opposing each other.
Accusing that the demand for a separate Gorkhaland was not raised in Tuesday’s all-party meeting, Gurung said he would call off the ongoing shutdown only after a tripartite meeting.
On the contrary, Tamang demanded restoration of peace and normalcy there at the earliest, and urged the state government to take initiative immediately for tripartite talks on Gorkhaland.
“Talibani diktat would not be accepted anymore in the hills,” he said.
Hwoever, the GJM also asked for a high level probe into the death of their activists due to police action in the last three months of agitation and compensation to the families of those killed and also to those who have sustained injuries.
Its other demands included withdrawal of old and new cases against all leaders, workers and sympathisers and release of all those arrested for participating in the Gorkhaland agitation.
Besides, it sought high level inquiry into the recent bomb blasts and withdrawal of the ban on some local TV channels and digital media so that they can function freely.
The hills of Darjeeling have been on the boil since last three months after GJM revived its demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland. A number of clashes took place between the agitators and the administration.