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Wanted: Healer for hills' Queen

The Sun slowly painting the snowy peaks of Kanchenjunga with colours of daybreak can still make your heart stand still.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2006 02:46 IST

The Sun slowly painting the snowy peaks of Kanchenjunga with colours of daybreak can still make your heart stand still. And the languid walks on a moonlit Mall is still the stuff of romance. But Darjeeling — an abandoned hill station till the British resurrected it in middle of the 19th century to house its sick soldiers — is in need of some healing itself.

Houses and hotels cover the hills like a rash, too many cars choke its narrow roads. The overdependence on tea and tourism is backfiring. Many of the estates are sick. And the most disastrous effect of this skewed development has been on the water reserves. Water has to be bought if one doesn’t have access to a source. Trucks carrying water ply through the night, supplying to hotels and houses. Streets are dirty and pollution is reaching worrying levels. Garbage and sewerage are major problems.

One would have expected these issues to figure in the election manifestoes of the parties — Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) and the CPM —when the Darjeeling sub-division goes to the polls. But even here politicians, it seems, always miss the obvious. The GNLF — which won all the three assembly constituencies in the 2001 election — it seems, is more worried about the constitutional amendment that would award the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) executive and legislative powers on certain departments. “We are satisfied. We don’t have to assure or promise the voters about anything. They know our work,” says Deepak Gurung, Darjeeling branch president of GNLF.

Has the GNLF-led movement got what it wanted? “We wanted Gorkhaland, a separate land for the Gorkhas. But there is no end to wanting.” CPM district general secretary SP Lepcha says: “The central government has an employment guarantee scheme. It has to be implemented here. Further, the Nepali language and cultural have to be promoted.”

And what of the water crisis? Not a word. So what if Uttam the driver and Narayan the STD booth owner would give anything for the taps at home to start running again.