From airport expansion to jobs for former rebels; CM Mamata showers sops on north Bengal
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday announced several major projects for five districts in north Bengal with a new medical college and hospital, expansion of the Bagdogra airport and major grants for different communities figuring prominently in her list.
The chief minister virtually laid the foundation stone of Jalpaiguri Medical College and Hospital and granted 104 acres of land for the expansion of Bagdogra airport near Siliguri town. “Night landing has already started at Bagdogra. More flights will operate after the expansion,” she said while handing over land documents to the chairman of the airport.
The government also announced that 161 former members of the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) would be employed as home guards so that they can be rehabilitated. Formed in 1995, the KLO carried out an armed struggle for a separate state for the local Rajbanshi community which comprises a sizeable section of voters.
While addressing an administrative meeting with officials from Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts, Banerjee made a series of announcements but did not hide her grievance, saying the government’s sincere efforts were not appreciated. She did not directly refer to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in which the Bharatiya Janata Party won seven of the eight seats in the region.
Banerjee also announced a grant of Rs 5 crore for the Rajbanshi Language Academy and Rs 10 crore for the Rajbanshi Development and Cultural Board. “We will also set up a second campus of the Panchanan Barma University and for this a 50 acre land has been earmarked at Mathabhanga,” said the chief minister.
Barma is the most prominent face of the Rajbanhsi community since he carried out the first movement against caste politics.
The chief minister reached out to other communities as well.
She handed over monthly allowance and home building funds to the chief priest of the famous Madan Mohan temple at Cooch Behar Palace. Banerjee announced that Cooch Behar Medical College and Hospital would be renamed after Maharaja Jitendra Narayan, the former king of Cooch Behar who died in 1922. Among his five children was Gayatri Devi who was married to Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II of Jaipur. Jitendra Narayan was married to Indira Raje, daughter of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III of Baroda.
The state government also announced that Rs 6 crore had been granted for the second phase of renovation at the Katherine Graham Memorial Chapel in Kalimpong.
The chief minster gave a grant of Rs 175 crore to the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, the district council in the Darjeeling hill region.
“So much has been done by us for north Bengal and yet some people only spread canards. Our projects are not being publicised. Something has to be done about this,” said Banerjee.
Banerjee’s efforts however did not satisfy everyone.
Bangshibadan Barman, general secretary of Greater Cooch Behar People’s Association (GCPA) and chairman of both the Rajbanshi Language Academy and the Rajbanshi Development and Cultural Board, did not attend the administrative meetings held on Tuesday and Wednesday although he was invited as he had been tested for Covid-19.
When contacted by HT, Barman said, “Rajbanshis comprise 52 per cent of the population in Cooch Behar and 40 per cent in four other districts. The amount sanctioned by the government so far is not enough to run the board which looks after the welfare of the community in entire north Bengal.”
Barman made it clear that he was not in favour of any political party. “Whoever works for the Rajbanshi community will get my support.”