First GTA, Constitution change later

VIVEK CHHETRI

Darjeeling, Sept. 12: The Centre, state and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today agreed that the constitutional amendment to bring back the three-tier panchayat system in the hills would be done only after new arrangement for the region was in place.

The three sides were reviewing the provisions of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Bill to work out a roadmap to put in place the new authority. They also examined the memorandum of agreement that led to the drafting of the bill.

After the DGHC was formed in 1988, the Constitution was amended once to form a two-tier system for the Darjeeling hills since no two zilla parishads — the highest rung in the panchayati system — could exist in one district. So while the plains of the Darjeeling district had a Mahakuma Parishad, the hills had a two-tier system without the zilla parishad.

In the 73rd amendment of the Constitution in 1992, Clause 3 of Article 243-M reads: “Nothing in this Part (a) related to panchayats at the district level shall apply to the hill areas of the District of Darjeeling in the state of West Bengal for which Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council exists under any law for the time being in force; (b) shall be construed to affect the functions and powers of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.”

Now, a constitutional amendment is needed if a three-tier panchayat system is to be set up. But though the hills were supposed to have a two-tier system, opposition from the GNLF, which was at the helm of affairs in the DGHC then, only a single tier system was allowed to function. That, too, became defunct in 2005.

The review committee meeting was held in Calcutta today and attended by Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri, state home secretary G.D. Gautama and the additional secretary in the ministry of home affairs B. Bahamati.

“We reviewed all the provisions of both the agreement and the bill and have worked out a roadmap,” said Giri over the phone from Calcutta. “Soon after the GTA is formed, issues like amending the Constitution to put in place the three-tier system would be taken up.”

It was also decided that the order to include the 6000-odd casual workers of the DGHC in a new pay-band, instead of a consolidated salary, as was agreed upon in the memorandum of understanding signed between the Centre, state and the Morcha, would be issued soon.

“It has been agreed that the order would be issued within three to four days or at the most within a week,” said Giri.

Once brought under the state government pay structure, the DGHC workers will get almost double their current salary and will also be eligible to work till they are 60 years old. However, they will not get benefits enjoyed by other government employees like dearness allowances, gratuity or pension. On retirement, they will get a consolidated sum of Rs 1 lakh.

The state government has decided to start a detailed discussion with various departments to set up an administrative complex and to open branches of the School Service Commission and offices of the Regional Provident Fund for the GTA to function.

Regarding the Rs 200 crore special assistance funds that the Centre will provide to the GTA for three years, the committee has agreed to draw up a plan on the utilisation of the cash. “A list of projects would be prioritised so that funds can be suitably allocated,” said Giri.

The state and the Centre, however, felt that “a more detailed discussion” would be needed on the Morcha’s demand to create more sub-divisions in the GTA area.

“It was also agreed that state’s Backward Class Commission would allow the hill communities, whose applications to grant tribal status has been rejected, to make afresh appeal. The state government is taking up the issue of declaring all the hill communities (except the Scheduled Castes) tribals with the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes,” said Giri.

The Morcha leader said the state government would also pursue the matter of recruiting “Gorkha Youths” into police, para-military and the army with the Centre.

Many believe that the term “Gorkha Youth” has been mentioned in the agreement to accommodate the Morcha’s Gorkhaland Personnel, a squad of lathi-wielding volunteers which the party claimed it had formed for crowd management.

“We are satisfied with the progress being made by the high-powered committee that is looking into the proposed inclusion of additional territory,” said Giri.

He was referring to the government-appointed committee that is examining the Morcha demand to bring the Gorkha-dominated areas in the Dooars and the Terai under the GTA.Courtesy:TheTelegraph.

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Author: madhubaganiar

Madhubaganiar loves to write on social issues especially for downtrodden segment of Indian society.

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