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PM pledges hill solution

- Darjeeling MP seeks funds for GTA region
Manmohan Singh and Jaswant Singh in the Lok Sabha
on Monday. (PTI)

New Delhi, March 19: Manmohan Singh today promised in Parliament that a “practical and viable solution” to the situation in the Darjeeling hills would be found and recognised the “contribution” of the Bengal government in “facilitating the outcome”.

The Prime Minister was responding to Darjeeling MP Jaswant Singh’s plea to the government to resolve the issues related to the hills and extend financial assistance for the development of the region.

“I wish to assure this House that we have worked with sincerity to find an amicable solution to this difficult problem. We recognise the contribution made by the Government of West Bengal in facilitating this outcome. Whatever issues are outstanding, the House has my assurance, we will work with the same constructive spirit to find a pragmatic, practical and viable solution,” the Prime Minister said.

The Prime Minister’s assurance comes amid tensions between the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the state government over the holding of the elections to the new hill body, the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration.

For the Morcha, the only issue is territory. “We don’t know what the Prime Minister means by outstanding issues. For us the only issue is territory. This should be settled. If the Prime Minister intervenes and settles this, we will welcome it. Nobody wants uncertainty in this region,” said Morcha spokesperson and Kalimpong MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri.

The Mamata Banerjee-led state government wants immediate election to the GTA. The Morcha, one of the signatories to the GTA agreement, wants the territorial jurisdiction of the new set-up to be settled first before the polls. The Morcha wants Gorkha dominated areas of the Dooars and the Terai to be made part of the GTA, a demand that is opposed by most plains outfits. The government, which has appointed a committee to look into the Morcha demand, wants the GTA elections to be held in the current DGHC area. According to the state government, any additional territory can be added later and the polls for those areas then held.

In the Lok Sabha, Jaswant Singh thanked the Centre and the Bengal government for forming the GTA and said it was the first step towards achieving Gorkhaland, a claim that is made frequently by the Morcha.

“The territorial administration is the first step towards the achievement of Gorkhaland. They cannot jump to Gorkhaland so let this Gorkhaland administration (GTA) be built up,” said Singh, welcoming the GTA.

The BJP leader’s comment created a furore in the House with Left leaders Basudeb Acharia and Gurudas Dasgupta seeking clarification on whether Jaswant Singh favoured the division of Bengal and the creation of a new Gorkhaland state.

Jaswant Singh said he was not suggesting anything while pointing out that it (Gorkhaland) was a very sensitive issue and should be handled with care.

“It is a highly sensitive issue. About 175,000 of them (Gorkhas) are in uniform. I am not suggesting a bifurcation of Bengal... I am not recommending (bifurcation),” Jaswant Singh replied.

He then went to raise the issue of Gorkhas being divided into tribals and non-tribals and sought a “start-up fund”.

“Some Gorkhas have been granted a tribal status; others have not been granted. I appeal to the government not to divide the Gorkhas into tribals and non-tribals. If some Gorkhas are tribals, then others should also be tribals,” he said.

He appealed to the finance minister for assistance for the region.

“I know the strains on the exchequer. But please understand that after the difficulties of 30 years that Darjeeling has suffered, they require a start-up fund. Please consider that sympathetically,” he said.