Tempers are again rising in the hills of West Bengal, with the pro-Gorkhaland Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) threatening to renew its agitation for a separate state if a proposed hill body was not formed by March 27.
"We will burn the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) treaty if it is not formed by the deadline. We will renew our agitation for Gorkhaland from April 27," GJM president Bimal Gurung said.
Gurung, who had set the March 27 deadline for the GTA's birth, said the treaty would be burnt at a meeting in Sukna, about 20 km from Siliguri in Darjeeling district.
On July 18 last year, a tripartite agreement was signed between the GJM and the state and central governments for setting up a new autonomous, elected GTA, a hill council armed with more powers than its predecessor Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC).
As per the accord, an expert committee was set up for the purpose of the survey of the Gorkha-dominated parts of Siliguri, Terai (plains of Darjeeling) and Dooars (foothills of the eastern Himalyas) to examine if areas from these places can be brought under the GTA.
The committee, headed by retired justice Shyamal Sen, was expected to give its report in six months but sought and got a six-month extension late last month.
The GJM central committee has expressed anguish over the developments. GJM general secretary Roshan Giri met Governor MK Narayanan on Tuesday and requested him to ensure that the GTA was formed soon.
The governor, now on a visit to Darjeeling, assured Giri that he would take up the matter with President Pratibha Patil, whose assent is required for the The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Bill 2011 passed by the state assembly in December.
"I can assure you that the state government is committed to form the GTA," the governor told Giri.
Expressing anguish over the delay in the Shyamal Sen committee completing its survey of fresh areas to be brought under the GTA, GJM assistant general secretary Jyoti Rai said the condition in the hills will worsen if the panel did not complete its job soon.
Meanwhile, five anti-GJM parties in the hills - the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League, Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists, Gorkha National Liberation Front (C.K. Pradhan), Gorkhaland Rashtriya Nirman Morcha and the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisang - have formed a Gorkhaland Task Force.
The elders of these parties have accused the GJM of betraying the cause of Gorkhaland and getting besotted with the GTA.
Chhatre Subba, chief of the Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation, has expressed his readiness to lead the Gorkhaland agitation if the "people so desire".
"I am prepared to give leadership to the people if they so desire. And if anybody obstructs me, he will get a befitting answer from the people."
On the other hand, the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), which had led the agitation for two decades till it was sidelined by the GJM, is also preparing for a meeting to be addressed by party chief Subash Ghising in Mirik Feb 26.
Ghising had been the uncrowned king of Darjeeling since the 1980s but was forced to leave the hills July 26, 2008 by the GJM.
He returned before last year's assembly polls, but fled in the cover of the night soon after the polls.
The three picturesque Darjeeling hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseyong and Kalimpong have been on the boil for nearly three decades due to anti-government protests over the demand for a separate state.
The hills had witnessed killings, police crackdowns and long shutdowns which severely impacted the region's economic mainstays of tea, timber and tourism.
Things have improved since the signing of the GTA, with calm and peace restored and tourists flooding the hills.