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HT Correspondent , Hindustan Times
Siliguri, November 20, 2013
The bipartite talks to be held in the city on Wednesday between the Mamata government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), following a fairly long spell of acrimony over the Gorkhaland issue, could pave the way for permanent peace in Darjeeling Hills. The meeting, coming in the wake of the GJM agreeing to channel all its energy and resources to run the autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration ( GTA ) a s opposed to a statehood campaign, is likely to debate a host of topics topped by proposed development projects in the Hills. However, the statehood issue won’t feature in the agenda for talks, sources said.

GJM general secretary Roshan Giri, who is leading the three-member delegation that arrived in the city on Tuesday, said the demand for release of all GJM leaders and supporters arrested during the Gorkhaland stir, is likely to figure prominently during the meeting.

More than 1,000 GJM leaders and supporters continue to languish at different state correctionals. Most had been arrested in connection with cases lodged before the coming of the autonomous administrative council.

Talking to mediapersons at Bagdogra airport before leaving for Kolkata, Giri said among the other issues that are likely to be taken up during the bipartite parleys are the transfer of reserve forests to the GTA, Scheduled Tribe status for all Hills people apart from those classified under Scheduled Castes, inclusion of Darjeeling Hills in the Northeast Council and increasing the number of blocks from 8 to 18 in Darjeeling Hills.

Senior bureaucrats, including state home secretary Basudeb Bandopadhyay, are likely to represent the Mamata government at the meeting.

The harvest of Wednesday’s meeting would be carried over at the tripartite meeting, also featuring the Centre, in Kolkata on Thursday.

“At both the bipartite and tripartite meetings, the GJM would also demand 29 amendments to the GTA Act,” a source said.

One of the many amendments that the GJM would seek in the GTA Act is to ensure reservation of seats for the SC and ST during elections to the autonomous administrative body and provision of jobs in the GTA. Sources said that the GJM’s demands are primarily aimed at wooing locals belonging to the SC & ST.