The West Bengal government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) on Tuesday signed an “official-level agreement,” paving the way for the setting up of a new elected body in the Darjeeling hill areas. After the signing of the accord, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed that the political impasse in the hill areas was on its way to being ended and that the “matter [was] settled.”
But the GJM said that part of the consensus was that the new set-up would be formed “without diluting” its main agenda for a Gorkhaland state, though the demand had been set aside for now.
Barely an hour after Ms. Banerjee described the agreement as “historical” and the culmination of a prolonged agitation by the GJM, party general secretary Roshan Giri told The Hindu: “It has been reiterated in the minutes of today's meeting that the main agenda of Gorkhaland must not be diluted or prejudiced.”
“It has been made clear that there can be an agreement for a bigger, more powerful body to replace the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council without diluting our main agenda for a separate State,” he said.
It was agreed after more than three hours of talks — first between the GJM leaders and the State government represented by, among others, Chief Secretary Samar Ghosh and Home Secretary G.D. Gautama, and then a brief round of discussions with the Chief Minister — that a new elected body would be set up for the Darjeeling hills even as a nine-member high-level committee comprising representatives of the Centre, the State government and the GJM looked into the question of bringing the Gorkha-dominated areas in the Dooars and the Terai under its jurisdiction. It would submit its recommendations within six months.
The talks between the GJM and the officials resumed during the day after they ended inconclusively on Monday.
The new setup would have full administrative, financial and executive powers and would be given more autonomy than the DGHC, Mr. Ghosh said.
Once a tripartite agreement involving the Centre was formalised, a Bill would be introduced in the Assembly at the earliest, so that the process of election for the new body could be initiated.
Till the body was set up, a five-member committee would constitute a board of administrators to oversee the development process in the hills. Another committee would be set up to look into the GJM's demand for investing the body with the authority for land management of tea-gardens and submit its recommendations within two weeks.
Pointing out that with the “official-level agreement” the “burning issue of Bengal” had finally been addressed, the Chief Minister said she had informed Union Home Minister P Chidambaram that “the matter has been settled.”
The State would seek an early round of tripartite talks — if possible within a week — to be held in Darjeeling to put the final seal of approval on the settlement, Ms. Banerjee said. Asked what the magic formula was applied to arrive at an agreement, she said: “It is development. We have to give more importance to Darjeeling… It is a both-side [two-way] traffic, not a one-side traffic.'
Expressing satisfaction with the outcome of the talks, Mr. Giri said: “Some of the contentious issues [of the seven points raised] have been resolved.”
Senior GJM leader Harka Bahadur Chettri described the new council as a “foundation for Gorkhaland.”