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Bill with 'bow' to Ghisingh

Calcutta, March 14: The Darjeeling Gorkha Autonomous Hill Council (amendment) Bill, 2005, was passed by voice vote in the Assembly today amid an admission from the government that it had virtually conceded all of Subash Ghisingh's demands.

Urban development minister Ashok Bhattacharya, who moved the bill, later told reporters that the appointment of a caretaker administrator to the council would be decided after chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi on March 19.

The bill envisages dropping of the word 'autonomous' from the name of the council, which was one of Ghisingh's demands. It also says the government may, by an order, appoint any person to be designated as the administrator or constitute a board of administrators to exercise the powers of the general council for a term not over six months at a time.

The government, however, accepted an amendment brought by Left Front chief whip Rabin Deb who sought to incorporate the word 'caretaker' in the bill. This means the administrator or board of administrators appointed by the government will have 'caretaker powers'.

The GNLF, which runs the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), wants chief Ghisingh to be made 'caretaker' after its term ends on March 26.

The bill says if the government considers necessary, it may change the administrator or reconstitute the board of administrators.

Bhattacharya said the government would notify the power of the administrator after the chief minister's Delhi meeting.

The GNLF is opposed to the polls till its demands regarding the powers of the council are met. Some of the demands include authority to appoint council office-bearers and control on hill policing.

Bhattacharya alleged that the GNLF chief had blackmailed the government by making false promises regarding the announcement of a date for the DGHC election.

State CPM secretary Anil Biswas said later: 'No decision has yet been taken on the administrator for the hill body.' The party, he added, would discuss the issue with all Left partners.

Replying to the discussion on the bill, Bhattacharya said: 'The government has had to compromise with the GNLF by accepting its demands. We had decided to hold the DGHC election on February 18, but Ghisingh raised objections' He added that the chief minister had accepted all of Ghisingh's demands. 'He also organised a meeting between Ghisingh and the Prime Minister in the hope that the council leader will agree to the elections. But Ghisingh took a U-turn after the meeting and has since been issuing threats to us.'

The GNLF welcomed the bill. Its MLA Shanta Chhetri said her party was not afraid of polls and expressed happiness that the word autonomous was dropped. The Trinamul Congress cried foul over Deb's amendment.

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