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Mamata's 'Smiling Hills' begin to bleed as GJM ups agitation

Tourists, who were holidaying, drove away in huge numbers to flee the uncertainty and violence

Avishek Rakshit  |  Kolkata 

Public Works Department (PWD) office in Darjeeling torched by miscreants (Photo: ANI)

Sporadic violence, bandh and calls for statehood have returned to the hills of that were till recently 'smiling'.

Following a series of violence since last week, which culminated in today's strike call, 10 people have been detained by the police among which eight were detained after they allegedly tried to torch a BDO office in Bijenbari. Although fire tenders controlled the situation quickly, atleast one room was gutted.

Protestors also locked the Sukna Village Panchayat office, which was reopened only after the police stepped in.

Tourists, who were holidaying in the Hills to escape the summer heat, drove away in huge numbers to flee the uncertainty and violence.

The (GJM) -sponsored shutdown of government offices started today amid all efforts from the administration to foil it. The state government has issued a notice to its employees and any absentee will face deduction in salary or even break from service. Furthermore, security, including deployment of the paramilitary forces, has been beefed up and the Army has been kept as a reserve force which may see some action if tension mounts.

Despite the government's call for a practical 'mandatory attendance in its offices' threatening the bandh supporters of dire consequences if they resorted to obstructing officials from attending their normal routine in government offices, shops, hotels, eateries and other commercial establishments downed their shutters and hoisted the flag indicating their support for the strike.

lent its support to the Joint Forum (a trade union conglomerate) which had called for 'chakka jam' (no vehicular movement) programme in the Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar and Alipurduar districts in the state.

"We haven't called for a bandh ourselves but have lent our support to the strike call of the Joint Forum", Roshan Giri, spokesperson of said.

Last Saturday, based on CCTV footage, the police arrested Sanjiv Tamang, Bhuwan Giri, Santosh Thapa, Rabindra Pradhan and Dhan Maya Tamang - all activists for their role in last Thursday's violence during the state cabinet meeting. GJM's president, Bimal Gurung shot back by asking tourists to leave the Hills anticipating escalated tensions.

"Had the government not resorted to hold the cabinet meet here, things wouldn't have gone to this extent. Now we raise our demand for a separate Gorkhaland again", Giri said.

Though tea gardens were kept out of the purview of the bandh, since the call was given by workers affiliated to the joint forum of trade unions were participating, production was affected to the tune of Rs 7 crore today, said S. S. Bagaria, former chairman of Tea Association. His estimate is based on the fact that the gardens in the area will be losing 50,000 kg of production volume each day.

Sources in Joint Forum said they want the minimum wages for tea workers to be upped from the current Rs. 132 a day.

"However, there hasn't been any tension or violence in any of the tea gardens", Bagaria said adding that all sectors of the economy like timber, banks and others have been kept closed today and is likely to remain closed on Tuesday also.

After the state's chief minister made the Bengali language compulsory in schools, the Hills, which majorly constitute an ethnic Nepali population viewed the move with cynicism taking it as a government's plot to 'Bengalise' the Hills. Although Banerjee later clarified that the Nepali language would continue in the Hills, the damage was already done. By that time, the had again raised their slogan for a separate Gorkhaland.