Centre lines up Rs 600cr package
A milestone agreement aimed at creating the autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and bringing peace to Darjeeling is scheduled to be signed in Pintail, a cluster of bungalows near Siliguri, on Monday.
The event, which marks a turning point in the troubled history of the hills, will be attended by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, Union home minister P. Chidambaram and Gorkha leader Bimal Gurung.
The agreement itself will carry the signatures of others but the choice of venue reflects some of the twists and turns and the tightrope walk that eventually led to the deal.
Pintail was in the news earlier when fallen Gorkha leader Subash Ghisingh took shelter in a bungalow there after being driven out of the hills. It was also from Pintail where Nickole Tamang, the prime suspect in the Madan Tamang murder case, fled while he was in police custody.
The choice of Pintail also means that Mamata’s wish to have the agreement signed on Bengal soil will be fulfilled. Her original pick was Darjeeling town but weather-fuelled logistical uncertainties surrounding Chidambaram’s itinerary prompted the chief minister to decide on Pintail.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, one of the three parties involved in the deal, wanted the agreement to be signed in the “grandeur” of Delhi but did not oppose the choice of Pintail.
Sources in Delhi said the Centre has agreed to a Rs 600-crore “special package” for the development of the hills. The funds will be released in three years in Rs 200-crore tranches. The Morcha had asked for a Rs 1,500-crore package, excluding plan and non-plan expenditure.
Sources said the signatories to the memorandum of agreement are expected to be state home secretary G.D. Gautama, Union home secretary R.K. Singh and Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri.
“The date and place of signing the agreements have been decided,” Mamata said at Writers’ this afternoon. “A village (Pintail) near Sukna was picked keeping in mind the inclement weather in the hills. If it was held in Darjeeling and the weather made roads inaccessible for three to four hours, there would have been problems. More so because the Union home minister is also going to attend.”
Chidambaram is keen to leave the same day because of which the state government did not want to take chances. At this time of the year, rain in the hills sometimes causes landslides. Pintail, about 2km from Siliguri in the plains, is a safer option.
Sources in the government said Mamata was determined that the signing should happen in Bengal.
“The chief minister wanted to prove a political point,” a source said. “By signing the agreement in Bengal, Mamata Banerjee wants to put out the message that it is an internal matter of the state and that the agreement was arrived at during meetings in Writers’ Buildings, not in Delhi. She does not want Delhi to take the credit for the agreement.”
Giri said: “Our party president Bimal Gurung, along with the MLAs from the hills and the MP from Darjeeling, will be present at the event. The Union home minister and the chief minister will also be present.”
All ministers and MLAs from north Bengal and members of the North Bengal Development Council will be invited.
Mamata said she had asked chief secretary Samar Ghosh to invite Leader of Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra.
The GTA, an autonomous administrative body that will replace the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, will be formed through direct elections following the enactment of a law in the Assembly.
Asked how she managed to find a solution to the hill problem, Mamata said: “The credit goes to the people of the state. My brothers and sisters from Darjeeling also helped us. We want the hills to remain as they are, with us, and the people there to live in peace.”
Sources in the government said the territorial jurisdiction of the GTA would be decided by a tripartite committee that would give its recommendation within six months of being constituted. Mamata today said: “I want to reassure the people in the Terai and the Dooars that they mustn’t worry.”
She asked “some organisations” which are protesting the proposed tripartite agreement to desist from doing so. A few outfits, such as Amra Bangali, have called a bandh in north Bengal on July 18 – the signing day.
“Some little-known organisations have been spreading baseless rumours. They are separatists. They do not want the agreement to be signed because they know that this will solve the problem. They are against development in the hills. I would like to ask them to give up (their protest),” Mamata said.Courtesy:TheTelegraph.