Nov. 20: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today ended its strike “temporarily” at 6pm, but with the state government offering no assurance on when the contract workers of the DGHC would be regularised, threatened to start a fresh agitation soon.
After a meeting with home secretary Ardhendu Sen at Writers’ Buildings this evening, DGHC administrator B.L. Meena said: “The government is examining the regularisation process but cannot specify any time frame within which this will be done. The continuous agitation by the DGHC employees has hampered the process and they should desist from doing so.”
In Darjeeling, Deepak Sharma, the spokesperson for the Janmukti Asthahi Karmachari Sangathan (JAKS), said: “We are calling off the strike temporarily, but after hearing what the government had to say this evening, we will decide on the next course of action tomorrow.”
The Morcha-backed organisation of DGHC contract workers had yesterday confined district magistrate Surendra Gupta and 14 of his staff members to the collectorate till almost midnight. They withdrew the siege after the district magistrate gave them an assurance that he would take up the regularisation of jobs with Writers’ Buildings today.
Asked why he had set November 17 as the date from when appointment letters would be distributed to the contract workers, Meena said he had done so “under duress” at a meeting with the Morcha in Darjeeling on October 30.
Morcha central committee member Amar Lama refuted Meena’s allegation. He said: “This (he) is not telling the truth. Meena should come to Darjeeling and tell us that he was under duress. On September 22, the state home secretary told us in Calcutta that vacancies against 3,472 posts would be filled up within 10 working days and the remaining workers would be absorbed by November 15. When the 10-day deadline was over, we had merely gone to Meena to find out about the delay and he, himself, in the presence of DGHC secretaries, had come up with the November 17 deadline.”
Meena pleaded helplessness, saying that the JAKS members did not understand ground realities.
“Nothing is in my hands,” he said. “There is a financial implication involved that (the process) has to be ratified by the government.”
In the hills today, Morcha supporters set up pickets and “checkpoints” on the main roads leading to the plains and stopped vehicles to check whether passengers had tickets to catch flights from Bagdogra or board trains at New Jalpaiguri. The party while announcing the strike yesterday had said only people with flight and train tickets would be allowed to go down to the plains.
The Morcha had called the strike yesterday to demand Meena’s resignation and that of the district magistrate, who is also the principal secretary of the DGHC.
Vehicles with students were allowed to ply and tea gardens and cinchona plantations were open.
Dilip Roy, a member of a delegation of the West Bengal Chemists and Druggists’ Association that had a conference in Darjeeling today, said his entire team came down in three buses to Siliguri.
“We were not getting vehicles to accommodate our 86-member group and so we approached the Sadar police station. The police were very helpful and arranged three buses for us to go down to New Jalpaiguri from where we are scheduled to board the Darjeeling Mail to Sealdah,” said Roy.
There was a heavy rush of vehicles at Rangpo on Bengal’s border with Sikkim. The Morcha had set up a checkpoint earlier, on the Teesta Bridge, which is part of NH31A that connects the Himalayan state. Barring ticket holders and patients, no one was allowed to travel towards Siliguri. A long line of vehicles was stuck at Rangpo.
Life in Siliguri was normal although the stands and terminuses from where vehicles leave for the hills remained empty. Shops in Sukna, on the outskirts of Siliguri, were shut.