Hill team off to Delhi – Centre SOS, efforts to tie up loose ends

The Telegraph

Darjeeling, March 28: A six-member delegation of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today left for Delhi following a sudden invitation from the Union home ministry, an indication that the Centre is hoping to tie up the loose ends of the agreement for the interim set-up so that a deal is inked — or a concrete result announced — at the next round of talks in May.

In the meeting to be held tomorrow with home ministry officials, the Morcha will, on its part, convey the “revisions” it wants in the “secret proposal” — submitted to home minister P. Chidambaram earlier — and discuss the territory that will come under the interim set-up. The hill party wants the interim arrangement to remain in place till December 2011, after the elections to the Bengal Assembly are over.

“All key issues on the interim council will be discussed. Apart from the territory, we will also place a demand that the interim authority should have legislative powers over 124 subjects,” said Morcha president Bimal Gurung at a public meeting in Kurseong today.

In its “secret” document, the Morcha had demanded legislative powers over 102 subjects. Even though Gurung did not spell out the additional subjects the party has included in its “revised” document, he said a special mention of tea and cinchona would be made. In the amended proposal, the Morcha will also ask the Centre not to convert the Schedule Castes in the hills to Scheduled Tribes, contrary to the demand in the “secret” document.

On March 22, Gurung had said the secret proposal would be amended so that the interests of the Scheduled Castes were not hurt. “We will write to the Centre to safeguard the privileges they are currently enjoying,” Gurung had said.

The SCs, who already have safeguards through job reservation and reserved seats during elections, would gain little through conversion to STs. In fact, they would stand to lose much as they would have to share the reservation with the entire hill population if all the communities were made STs.

The delegation that left for Delhi today includes Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri, central committee members Amar Lama and Harkha Bahadur Chhetri and three members of the Study Forum Amar Rai, L.B. Pariyar and Kitap Singh Rai. Sources said the letter inviting the letter to Delhi had been sent by N.S. Kalsi, joint secretary, Union home ministry. “It is a preparatory dialogue before the next tripartite meeting (scheduled to be held before May 14). The state officials will also be present,” said Gurung.

Bengal municipal affairs minister and Siliguri MLA Asok Bhattacharya, however, said in Calcutta that he had no information about tomorrow’s meeting in Delhi. “We have not received any letter from the Centre and I have no further information,” said Bhattacharya, one of the two ministers who represented the Bengal government in the last round of talks held at the political level in Delhi on March 18.

Observers, however, believe that more than the transfer of subjects, it is the territory to come under the interim council that will be discussed at length tomorrow. The Morcha has already made it clear that it will not compromise on the “revised” territory.

For Gorkhaland, the Morcha had wanted the entire Dooars, Terai and the Darjeeling district. However, when the party submitted a proposal for an interim arrangement – the details of which were made public on March 15, three days before the fifth round of talks — it left out a large chunk of the Dooars, sticking to areas dominated by Nepali-speaking people.

After the new demarcation proposal, the Morcha is determined not to compromise on the territory any more. “Even if they (government) give us Gorkhaland without the areas we want (in Dooars and Terai), we will not accept statehood,” Gurung had told party workers in Kurseong recently.

The state government has strong reservations about the Dooars, Terai and the Siliguri subdivision of Darjeeling district being made part of the proposed interim arrangement.

“However, tomorrow’s meeting is a clear indication that the Centre wants to tie up all loose ends before the next political-level talks where an agreement can be reached,” said an observer.


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