Darjeeling: All-party meet flops, Bengal govt turns heat on Gorkhaland agitators
A red-faced Bengal government launched an exhaustive audit of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and extended the suspension of internet and cable services in the hills for an indefinite period after an all-party meet to discuss the Darjeeling crisis flopped.Updated: Jun 23, 2017 07:29 IST
Smarting under embarrassment as an all-party meeting on the Darjeeling crisis turned into a flop show on Thursday with all major opposition parties abstaining, the West Bengal government reacted by intensifying the clampdown on Gorkhaland agitators in the hills.
The state’s strategy includes an exhaustive audit of the funds given to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) run by Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) and extending the suspension of internet and cable services in the hills for an indefinite period. The government also registered FIRs against GJM chief Bimal Gurung, his wife Asha and some senior members of the party, charging them with murder of the three men who died during clash with the police at Singamari in Darjeeling on June 17.
The all-party meeting was expectedly fruitless. Most opposition parties boycotted the meeting saying it would be a futile exercise given that chief minister Mamata Banerjee out of the country.
What was particularly embarrassing for the government was that representatives of only two out of the 15 hill-based development boards attended the meeting. Till now, it was believed that these boards owed their allegiance to chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
Despite attending the meeting, representatives of the Kami community and the minority community development boards refused to speak to the media. A member of another development board that did not attend the meeting told HT on condition of anonymity that being residents of the hills it is impossible for them to ignore public sentiment. A member of another development board said that their absence was to a great extent prompted by fear of backlash from the agitators.
The two political parties present at the meeting (other than Trinamool Congress) were the Bahujan Smajwadi Party and Nationalist Congress Party. Neither has any noteworthy organisation in the state nor any MLA in the Assembly.
A senior state finance department official said that the audit team is looking into alleged misappropriation of funds by the GTA. He said utilization certificates for funds spent were missing in most cases and money had been spent on construction works without producing bills.
“The 12-member audit team has come across several such misappropriations, following which we have decided to conduct physical audit. As the chief minister said, those found guilty will be identified and prosecuted,” he said.
Meanwhile, Darjeeling district magistrate, Joyoshi Dasgupta reportedly sent a confidential report to the home department on Thursday saying that the ongoing strike has resulted in an estimated loss of around Rs 150 crore.
Without naming the GJM, home secretary Malay Kumar De said at the end of the all-party meeting that the government was open to negotiations with the agitators and it wanted peace to be restored.
“The onus of restoring peace in the hills lies with everyone. Hill people are suffering. State government has the constitutional duty to restore peace and maintain law and order. For that, the government is seeking cooperation from all,” De said.
Education minister and Trinamool secretary general, Partha Chatterjee, referred to Mahatma Gandhi to justify the shortage of political representation at the all-party meeting. “When Gandhiji used to convene meetings, only a few attended. But later, millions walked behind him,” he said.
Chatterjee refused to give a direct reply on the suspension of internet and cable services in the hills, insisting that “the bigger problem in the hills is shortage of food and other essential commodities.”