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Ghisingh gets autonomy, not Siliguri

New Delhi, Dec. 6: Less than a year after he promised to dump the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council “into a garage”, Subash Ghisingh has signed a deal that will give the hill areas an autonomous, self-governing authority under the Sixth Schedule.

The new entity will be called Gorkha Hill Council, Darjeeling. Elections will take place within six months of enactment of the parliamentary act.

The Centre has to amend Article 244 of the Constitution to include the new council in the Sixth Schedule, which is applicable only to the northeastern states.

“We have got what we had demanded. There are no hard feelings now whatsoever. I am very happy and grateful to (home minister) Shivraj Patil and (Bengal chief minister) Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who understood our problems and finally agreed to our demands,” a beaming Ghisingh said after signing the tripartite memorandum of settlement at North Block.

Ghisingh didn’t have his way entirely, though. As part of the new council, the GNLF chief had asked for the whole of Siliguri subdivision. But the government put its foot down and said the council would get only 16 mouzas.

“We have not given away Siliguri city. Subash Ghisingh had demanded more areas but I requested him not to demand anything more.

“We have already agreed to give 14 mouzas of Siliguri subdivision to the hill council, we might as well give them one or two more which are contiguous to the DGHC areas,” Bhattacharjee said.

To accelerate development of the hill region, the Centre will provide financial assistance of Rs 30 crore per annum for five years for projects to develop the socio-economic infrastructure, which will be above the normal plan assistance to Bengal.

The new council can make appointments to all posts under its control, except where recruitment is made on recommendations of the West Bengal Public Service Commission.

The council can constitute a selection board for appointments to be made by it.

Bhattacharjee said most of the subjects have been transferred to the council except irrigation and cooperatives, which will be done once he reaches Calcutta. Law and order will remain with the state government.

The memorandum, signed by Union home secretary V.K. Duggal, Bengal chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb and Ghisingh, says the objectives of the agreement are to replace the DGHC by an autonomous self-governing council under the Sixth Schedule, “to fulfil economic, educational and linguistic aspirations and the preservation of land rights, socio-cultural and ethnic identity of the hill people and to speed up the infrastructure development in the hill areas”.

The agreement gives three months to the Bengal government to reorganise the mouzas, villages and other areas falling in the three contiguous hill subdivisions ' Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.

Provisions will be made to increase the number of members of the new council to 33.

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