Hill council faces uncertain future

DARJEELING UNREST Worries abound over who will pay the estimated 5,000 workers employed by the 40 departments of the scrapped administrative body

Hill council faces uncertain future

Bimal Gurung, the chief executive officer of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), pulled out from the semi-autonomous powercentre in the hills of West Bengal, the battle-cry for a separate Gorkhaland state got shriller.

But what was lost in the din of the ongoing agitation led by Gurung’s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) is the concern of an estimated 5,000 employees in the 40 departments under the GTA. What will happen to them? Who will pay their salaries? And will they have their jobs at all?

GJM’s Darjeeling legislator Amar Singh Rai said the party “withdrawing from the GTA will not affect its functioning”.For the time being, the GTA will be run by the principal secretary or an administrator appointed by the state government.

Many feel that scrapping of the GTA, formed in 2012 to replace the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, is only a matter of time. “Once the GTA is scrapped, it will be the state government’s responsibility to rehabilitate the employees,” said Neeraj Zimba, spokesperson of the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF), which once led a violent statehood movement under its mercurial leader Subash Ghising. Ghising passed away in 2015.

The GNLF is one of the constituents of a 14-outfit alliance pressing for statehood.

A government officer who previously served at GTA told HT that all development projects under it will be stalled and there will be chaos. “Instead of setting up development boards for different ethnic communities among the Nepali-speaking people of the hills, the state government should have transferred all the departments as per the tripartite agreement,” the officer said, referring to a pact signed in July 2011 between the Centre, state government and GJM for creation of the GTA.

“GTA has become an ineffective body with rampant corruption and too much interference by the state government, which is unfortunate,” he added.

Others say the GTA has failed to serve its purpose. “GTA was the biggest mistake of the GJM and we hope that they do not repeat the same mistake by accepting any other institution similar to GTA. The people of Darjeeling are ready to go for the hardship as the present movement is not for development but a political one,” Zimba said.

“It is now up to the Centre to find a solution.”

Harka Bhadur Chhetri, chief of Jan Andolan Party (JAP), said the GTA has failed to fulfil the aspirations of the hill people.

“It was a failure and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha did not learn from the mistakes of the Ghisingled GNLF in settling for yet another autonomous body instead of a full-fledged state,” Chhetri said.

Chhetri, who was a GJM legislator from Kalimpong and later broke away to form his own outfit, said his party’s representative at the all-party meeting spoke for the one-point agenda of Gorkhaland. “If not Gorkhaland, nothing,” he said.

For Bimal Gurung, withdrawing from the GTA was a political necessity, experts say.

With an adamant state government unwilling to sit for a dialogue and the pro-Gorkhaland parties reluctant to accept anything less than statehood, the people of the hills are bracing for a long hauled turmoil.

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