A Historic Deal & Day for the people of Darjeeling

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West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee deserves full marks for bringing to fruition a tripartite agreement that promises a lasting solution to the Gorkhaland issue. That she has managed to do this within months of taking over at Writers’ Buildings is even more creditable.

The demand for a separate administrative entity for the Darjeeling hills has a long history. The violent agitation for statehood in the 1980s, under the leadership of the Gorkha National Liberation Front, had culminated in the formation of the semi-autonomous Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. But starting in 2008, renewed demand for a separate Gorkhaland state by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) meant the hill council couldn’t continue in its given form and shape.

The new tripartite agreement between the West Bengal government, the Centre and the GJM is a happy middle path that seeks to satisfy all stakeholders. The proposed autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) stops short of statehood but shall benefit from significant devolution of powers. The new pact transfers sectors such as health, education, tourism, agriculture and municipal affairs to the direct management of the GTA. The Rs 600 crore financial package promised by the Centre over the next three years should provide the autonomous body with substantial funds to ensure development in the Darjeeling hills.


However, the devil could lie in the details. A committee is to be set up to look into the territorial composition of the GTA. There are reports that the GJM wants 398 mouzas in the Terai and the Dooars to be included within the jurisdiction of the new administrative body. Whatever is done, the rights of Bengalis and Adivasis need to be protected. Non-Gorkha organisations in north Bengal have already called for bandhs to protest the tripartite deal. Efforts need to be made to allay their apprehensions. Devolution of powers to local administrative bodies can only succeed on the strength of an inclusive agenda.

Having said that, the new deal serves as a template for other regions of the country where identity politics and lack of quality governance have given rise to demands for separate states. Whether Telangana or Vidarbha, carving out smaller states from existing ones is no guarantee of development. The thrust needs to be on administration and policy implementation. Devolution of powers supplemented by good governance is the key to mitigating local grievances and eschewing parochialism. For the sake of the Darjeeling hills, it is hoped that the GTA now shuns competitive politics and focusses on developing the region.

Source: Times of India

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