Darjeeling unrest: GJM supporters set ablaze govt buildings, 6 suspects detained
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Darjeeling unrest: GJM supporters set ablaze govt buildings, 6 suspects detained

Agitators vandalised and set ablaze government buildings and vehicles as violence gripped one of India’s most beautiful hill stations.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2017 16:51 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times, Darjeeling

Indian army personnel stand guard during an indefinite strike called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in Darjeeling, West Bengal on June 16, 2017. Paramilitary troops and riot police increased patrolling after fresh violence as a result of a raid at GJM party chief Bimal Gurung’s office on Thursday. The GJM’s call for an indefinite strike stems from demands for a separate state of Gorkhaland and escalated with apprehensions against the imposition of Bengali language in local schools. (Diptendu Dutta/AFP)

The unrest that spread in Darjeeling continued throughout Thursday night with suspected Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) supporters setting fire to government establishments such as hydel projects and health centres.

Well after midnight, miscreants set fire to a primary health centre run by the state government-owned Ramam hydel project at Lodhama, 70 km fr om Darjeeling. An electricity supply office at the same spot was set ablaze. Both the establishments were completely gutted. The panchayat building at Mirik, where the Trinamool Congress, won the civic poll only last month, was also set fire to.

Stray incidents of violence were reported from Darjeeling and nearby areas and six suspected GJM supporters were detained on Friday - the second day of the shutdown called by the outfit.

The health care centre that was set on fire by suspected GJM supporters in Lodhama on Thursday night. (HT Photo / Bikram Sashanker)

The nearest police station is six km from Lodhama. According to sources, the state government is dispatching five more IPS officers to the hills. On Thursday, the Centre rushed 400 additional paramilitary personnel to Darjeeling, taking the total number to 1,400, to assist the local administration in restoring peace and normalcy.

The indefinite bandh called in the hills by the GJM continued with roads remaining empty and shops and business establishments closed.

An official said the six were detained after they set afire a forest office at Tarakhola in Kalimpong on Thursday night.

Normal life in the hills was affected on Friday, with schools, markets and ATMs remaining closed. An examination could not be held at an IGNOU centre in view of the bandh, he said.

Tourists were most affected as hotels, restaurants and eateries remained shut, and there were few buses to come down to Siliguri in the plains.

“We are waiting for a bus since 5.30am but not a single bus is available to take us to Siliguri,” said Aninda Bhaduri, a tourist.

Another tourist Swati Rai said, “I have practical exams in Siliguri but there is not a single bus to take me there.”

A senior government official, on condition of anonymity, said, “We will not allow anybody to hamper the law and order situation in the hills and law will take its own course. If anybody is found trying to break the law, he/she will face action and the administration will handle the situation in a very tough manner.”

Around 9.15pm on Thursday, protesters set fire to the Ghayabari railway station of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a World Heritage item popularly known as the toy train, but people managed to douse the fire, officials said. The station is 31 km from Siliguri.

Throughout Thursday, agitators vandalised and set ablaze government buildings and vehicles as violence gripped one of India’s most beautiful hill stations.

The flare-up followed a police raid at a GJM office in Darjeeling as police said they seized arms, explosives and night-vision equipment.

The GJM that rules the hill districts under the semi-autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) immediately struck back with an indefinite shutdown.

They set fire to a police outpost and a sericulture department office in Kalimpong. An attempt to torch a government tourist lodge was foiled by police. In Darjeeling, protesters set a vehicle on fire.

Police caned protesters and fired tear gas shells in retaliation to the stone pelting by GJM supporters.

June 5
  • West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee reaches Darjeeling for a 4-day trip.
  • At a public meeting in Mirik, Banerjee announces special audit of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) to unearth financial irregularities that Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leaders allegedly indulged in.
  • GJM supporter arrested for showing black flag to CM.
June 8
  • GJM supporters organise agitation close to Raj Bhavan where Banerjee is holding a cabinet meeting.
  • At press meet, CM clarifies Bengali will not be compulsory for hill students. In May, she had declared Bengali as a mandatory subject for students till Class 10 in schools across the state.
  • Clashes erupt between police and GJM supporters
  • Banerjee calls in the army as situation deteriorates.
  • Bengal government withdraws security cover of GJM chief Bimal Gurung.
June 9
  • GJM youth wing calls 12-hour bandh in the hills.
June 10
  • In Siliguri, Banerjee hints at stern police action to deal with GJM. "Enough is enough. We can’t compromise any longer with a party that uses bombs and guns," she says.
June 12
  • GJM supporters set fire to the block development office in Bijanbari around midnight of June 11-12.
  • Protesters set fire to PWD office and vandalise a state-run power utility office in Darjeeling.
June 13
  • Resolution to push for separate state of Gorkhaland adopted at a meet by 4 political parties of the hills, the BJP and an apolitical body.
June 15
  • Police raid GJM office in Patlebas, about 5 km from Darjeeling, seize weapons such as bows and arrows, axe, scythes and cash
  • GJM retaliates by calling indefinite bandh.
  • Agitators set fire to an outpost in Kalimpong
  • Clashes erupt again between police and GJM supporters at Patlebas.
  • Police claim they were fired upon by GJM supporters.
June 20
  • Date of the next all-party meeting

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Jun 16, 2017 09:35 IST