Darjeeling, Oct. 25: Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung today announced a fresh set of agitation programmes, which includes a “ban” on off-liquor shops from November 7.
The agitation could also culminate in the declaration of Gorkhaland if the next round of talks fail in December, the Morcha leader threatened. It will, however, start with the expulsion of corrupt leaders from the party..
The “ban” on the liquor shops has been aimed at blocking the government’s revenue collection. “During the festive period, the Bengal government collected Rs 40-50 crore as excise duty from liquor sales in the hills,” Gurung said. The Morcha announcement has come as a blow to hotels and restaurants. “We buy our supplies from the off-shops (which do not have bars or where liquor can only be bought) and about 70 per cent of visitors to restaurant-cum-bars consume alcohol. We will lose a lot of revenue because of this,” a hotel owner said.
Sales from the off-shops had picked up ever since the Gorkhaland Personnel, the voluntary squad of the Morcha, cracked down on liquor being smuggled in from Sikkim that was available to locals at much cheaper rates. By Gurung’s estimates, the sales had peaked during the festive season that began with Vishwakarma Puja on September 17 and continued through Diwali.
While the state excise department might lose out on revenue, the 70-odd establishments — off-shops as well as hotels and restaurants with bars — might have to bear the brunt. However, none of them were forthcoming in revealing the sales figures. “About 70 per cent of our clientele order drinks. For each bill that we draw up, at least 50 per cent is spent on liquor,” said the manager of a restaurant in town.
The “ban” is expected to mount pressure on the government before the next round of tripartite talks to be held in Darjeeling, similar to the non-cooperation movement launched by the Morcha before the first round of talks last year. The party had then asked the people of the hills to refrain from paying their electricity bills.
Addressing a programme to mark the end of a month-long cultural fest at Chowrastha, Gurung did not spare his party members too.
“During the two-year agitation, many leaders have bought expensive cars, built houses, sat with engineers in hotel rooms and accepted money and amassed wealth. I have a complete report on them and the party’s secretary will start sending notices to all of them from tomorrow,” he told the gathering.
Gurung said the expulsion notices would be first sent to Kalimpong.
This is the first time that Gurung has admitted that his party members are involved in corruption. He said tainted leaders were in all wings of the party.
The Morcha has also decided to restart using Gorkhaland on signboards. But, unlike in the past, it will refrain from replacing “West Bengal” from the government signboards for sometime.
“I will declare Gorkhaland and will impose home rule. During the time, the Gorkhaland Personnel will collect tea, motor vehicle, boulder and other taxes if the December talks are inconclusive,” Gurung said.
The Morcha also felicitated a dozen sportspersons, artists and writers from Darjeeling. Former footballer Shyam Thapa was among those who were presented with one tola (a little less than 10gm) of gold, a citation and a khukuri each.