April 30: Bengal minister Asok Bhattacharya today advised tourists to give Darjeeling a miss this season because of the turmoil in the hills, for which he blamed the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.
“I earnestly request tourists not to head for Darjeeling this summer. The situation in the hills is too complicated,” Bhattacharya told reporters at the Writers’ Buildings. “Whenever tourists get stuck in the hills because of the Morcha’s demonstrations, police are forced to come to their rescue. It goes to show that the situation is far from normal.”
The Morcha, spearheading the movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland, recently shut down all government offices in the hills for 14 days. Tourist facilities were kept outside the strike’s purview, but the toy train rides remained suspended.
Yesterday, no hired vehicles was available in Darjeeling town from 10am-2pm as Morcha-affiliated taxi drivers trooped off to a meeting of their association.
State home secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti said Jalpaiguri divisional commissioner B L Meena would hold a meeting with Morcha leaders tomorrow to look into their demands. “A clear picture will emerge after the meeting,” Chakrabarti said.
Asked if it would be advisable for tourists to stay away from the hills, the home secretary said: “I will not comment on that. But newspaper reports are talking about disturbances in the hills.”
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee remained silent when asked if the situation in Darjeeling was going out of control.
The hill affairs minister, however, said the government was running out of patience. “There’s a limit to our patience. The Morcha’s unconstitutional movement cannot be allowed to go on like this. It has led to losses amounting to several crores (in the hills).”
In Darjeeling, the general secretary of the Morcha, Roshan Giri, reacted strongly to Bhattacharya’s “request to tourists”.
“Asok Bhattacharya has proved that he is anti-Darjeeling and anti-hill people. There will be no major problems for tourists if they come to the hills. Bhattacharya is acting irresponsibly and has forgotten that he is a state minister. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee should immediately sack him for making such irresponsible comments,” Giri said.
Asked about the possible problems that tourists might face in Darjeeling, Giri said: “We do not have any plans to call a strike immediately. And if we are forced to do so, we will announce it in advance.”
Government employees in the hills, including contract workers of the DGHC, will receive full salary for April even though they did not attend work for a fortnight when the Morcha shut down the offices.