The Centre stated clearly on Friday that it is against the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state, as put forth by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).
“We are not in favour of a separate state,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said. Speaking to reporters after the conclusion of the annual general meeting of the Merchants’ Chamber of Commerce, Mukherjee, however, added that the government was willing to hold talks with the GJM provided there were no pre-conditions.
Mukherjee also met with West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for about 10 minutes, during which the latter reportedly convinced Mukherjee that the Centre should neither agree to the Gorkhaland demand nor push Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling in the Lok Sabha.
With his back to the wall following the GJM’s refusal to talk with the state and its insistence on direct discussions with the Centre, Bhattacharjee is desperate to have the Congress-led UPA government on his side. He explained to Mukherjee that the GJM and its chief, Bimal Gurung, have not been invited to the all-party meet on June 17 since theirs was not a registered political outfit. The CM however said he was open to have talks with the outfit.
Mukherjee mirrored the state’s stand : “The Centre is ready to hold talks with the GJM, but without any preconditions. And there is no question of a separate state.”
Bandh loss Rs 15 cr daily
With the GJM calling an indefinite bandh, industry insiders estimate trade and tourism in the region have been hit by losses of Rs15 crore per day.
According to Biswajit Das, general secretary of Federation of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, North Bengal (Focin), the strike in the hills is taking a huge toll on Siliguri’s business community, which is losing nearly Rs 4.5 crore every day. “Darjeeling traders are suffering a loss of Rs 1.5 crore per day. And Bhutan, Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri district are losing another Rs 3 crore of revenue because of the frequent bandhs in Bengal,” he said.
The frequent bandhs in West Bengal have forced the Sikkim government to carry out a survey into their financial losses, which works out to an estimated Rs 5.9 crore per day. “The survey done in February 2008 helped us compute the daily loss Sikkim suffered every time NH 31 became out of bounds for Sikkim traffic,” Sikkim tourism secretary, S B S Baduria told Hindustan Times from Gangtok.
Highlighting its problems, the Sikkim government has asked the Bengal and Union governments for immediate action.