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Cabinet nod to special status

New Delhi, Oct. 1: The Union cabinet has approved the Sixth Schedule status for Darjeeling hills, less than two years after GNLF chief Subash Ghisingh signed the memorandum of settlement for the creation of a new council under it.

This means that the central government — one of the signatories to the agreement, the others being the Bengal government and Ghisingh — has given the go-ahead and Gorkha Hill Council (GHC) Darjeeling will be formed. But the powers and benefits under the new status will be conferred to GHC only after Parliament passes the bill in the winter session.

In the process, Articles 244 and 332 and the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution will have to be amended since so long the special status was restricted only to the north-eastern states only.

Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today said in Calcutta: “It is a welcome development and we hope the bill will be tabled in the winter session of Parliament.” Asked about the demand for a separate state by a section of the GNLF, Bhattacharjee said: “Let’s not get into all that.”

Unlike the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council which was created out of a state act, the GHC will have constitutional guarantee which means more legislative power including tax collection and enactment of laws in areas like higher and adult education, rural development and land and land revenue. The new council will also be able to make appointments to all posts under its control except where recruitment is made on recommendations of the West Bengal Public Service Commission. Law and order will remain with the state government. The GHC jurisdiction will extend over the three hill subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. Sixteen mouzas of the Siliguri subdivision will also be under the GHC.

Bengal urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said in Siliguri today that it is imperative that elected representatives take charge of the new council, now that the draft proposal for the special status has been approved. The last elections to the DGHC was held in 1999.

“It was a long cherished dream of the hill people and of Subash Ghisingh,” information and broadcasting minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said while announcing the Cabinet decision. The announcement comes in the backdrop of the situation in neighbouring Nepal, where the Maoists withdrew from the ruling coalition, and disturbances in Siliguri over alleged derogatory references on Indian Idol 3 winner Prashant Tamang by a radio channel last week.

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