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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

Gorkhaland stir: Darjeeling springs back to life after 104 days as GJM calls off shutdown in Bengal hills

The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha called off the shutdown after Union home minister Rajnath Singh asked the home secretary to convene a meeting to discuss all issues related to Darjeeling

cities Updated: Sep 28, 2017 08:10 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times, Darjeeling
The narrow lanes of Kurseong was bustling with activity on Wednesday after a 104-day-long shutdown in the Darjeeling hills was called off.
The narrow lanes of Kurseong was bustling with activity on Wednesday after a 104-day-long shutdown in the Darjeeling hills was called off. (HT Photo)

Shops opened and the streets sprung back to life as one of India’s most picturesque hill stations, Darjeeling, woke up to normal life on Wednesday after a 104-day shutdown that sparked widespread violence and left at least 12 people dead.

The indefinite shutdown, called to press for a separate Gorkhaland state, was clamped on June 15 after a police raid on office of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), the largest political party in hills of West Bengal, and its chief Bimal Gurung.

The GJM called off the bandh on Tuesday evening after Union home minister Rajnath Singh asked the home secretary to convene a meeting to discuss “all issues” related to Darjeeling. GJM is an ally of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Educational institutions, offices and banks were, however, closed for Durga Puja and Dussera, the biggest festival of the Gorkhas.

Internet service, suspended since June 19, was also restored on Tuesday night though the administration did not announce it officially.

Offcials said north Bengal’s all 87 tea gardens -- employ more than 70,000 workers -- started functioning from early morning as the workers began uprooting weeds at the plantations.

“Works resumed in all tea gardens and the workers are likely to get their puja bonus on Thursday,” said Suraj Subba, general secretary of the Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union, which is affiliated to the GJM.

But a number of workers, who moved out in search of jobs, could not report for work on Wednesday.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the second biggest tourist attraction after Mount Kanchandzonga in Darjeeling hills, could not resume train services as sections of the tracks have been hit by landslides and have not been repaired during the shutdown. A station of the ‘toy train’ service – a Unesco World Heritage Site – was also partially burnt in arson during the bandh.

The streets were relatively empty as compared to previous years when thousands of people from the rest of state and around India throng the hill stations of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong.

A large chunk of state government and GTA employees are yet to get their salaries for the last three months. Tea garden workers have also got got their wages and bonus.

The loss of business and tourism sector is believed to run into hundreds of crores due to the shutdown.

“With no money at hands, this Durga puja and dussera would pass without fanfare,” said Jyoti Karki, a Kalimpong resident.

Properties worth crores of rupees were set on fire or vandalised and the army had to be called in twice.

Anit Thapa, the expelled GJM central committee leader who was appointed the vice chairman of the board of administrators of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) said, “The Union home minister gave a face saver to Gurung.”

“Life was already coming to normal. The Union home minister has not promised tripartite talks. He has also not said whether the meeting would discuss the issue of Gorkhaland.”

Gurung had earlier said the bandh would continue till the Centre calls tripartite meeting to discuss the Gorkhaland issue.

Goutam Deb, the Bengal tourism minister, said: “The withdrawal of the strike is only a face saving exercise for Gurung.”

Various hill parties have been demanding a tripartite meeting and urged chief minister Mamata Banerjee to work towards one. Gorkhaland supporters have been demanding that the Centre should immediately start discussions.

Gurung and a few senior leaders of the party are on the run after they were charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in a few cases of explosions in Darjeeling.

The criminal investigations department (CID) of Bengal Police arrested three GJM leaders -- DK Pradhan, P T Ola and Trilokchand Roka -- from Gurgaon on September 22. The three were part of the delegation that met Rajnath Singh on September 19.

First Published: Sep 27, 2017 12:37 IST

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