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Darjeeling Hills municipal elections in December

india Updated: Sep 25, 2011 14:51 IST
Amitava Banerjee

The elections to the four Darjeeling Hill municipalities in West Bengal will be held on December 11, 2011. This is the first local body election since 2004.

Talking to HT, Saumitra Mohan, District Magistrate, Darjeeling stated "We have received an official communication from Kolkata stating that election to the Darjeeling, Kurseong, Kalimpong and Mirik Municipalities will be held on December 11. However we are yet to receive the schedule, which we expect to be sent to us shortly."

The last Municipal election in the Hills had been held in 2004. With the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) managing to seize power by driving out the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) leaders and supporters from the Hills in mid 2008, the GNLF Municipal Councillors had defected to the GJM. The GJM agitating for a separate state had put an halt to elections to the Municipalities and Panchayats.

Since then, the four Hill Municipalities have been run by boards of administrators headed by the SDO in the capacity of Chairman of the Board in each sub division of the District. The other member in each Board is Director, Department of Local Bodies.

However since the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement between the Centre, State and GJM for the formation of an autonomous administrative body on July 18, 2011 followed by the passing of the GTA 2011 Bill in the West Bengal Assembly on September 2, there have been reports of the Government planning to hold elections to the civic bodies in the Hills. The matter had also cropped up in a meeting between chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the GJM Chief Bimal Gurung in Kolkata on August 3, 2011.

Even the Panchayat elections are overdue in the Hills since 2005. There are certain complications regarding the Panchayat system in the Hills. While the rest of the country boasts of a three tier Panchayat system, the Indian Constitution had been amended in 1998 (with the formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council- DGHC) to incorporate a two tier panchayat system in the DGHC area comprising of the Panchayat and Panchayat Samity.

The GJM has been demanding that this unique system should be reverted back to the three-tier Panchayat system. As this would be a time taking complex process (the constitution has to be re-amended) the GJM has now agreed to hold Panchayat elections following which the process of reverting back could be initiated (only after the formation of the GTA)

The GJM leaders including Gurung have opined that number of development activities especially under the Municipality have been hampered and hence have demanded immediate elections to the Hill civic bodies.