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Panel to look into hill report

Calcutta, June 16: The state government today announced that a “fact verification committee” would be formed to look into the Justice Sen report, a move it hopes will put the lid on the renewed agitation in the Darjeeling hills.

The announcement was made after a meeting Mamata Banerjee held at Writers’ with a delegation of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. The hill party has rejected the report, which recommends the inclusion of only five of the 396 plains mouzas the Morcha has demanded in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA).

The Morcha has announced a month-long agitation in the Darjeeling hills and the Dooars-Terai region.

Chief secretary Samar Ghosh said the verification committee would probe the Morcha’s claim that the Sen report contained “factual errors”.

Ghosh said a notification for elections to the GTA would be issued next week. “The Morcha did not show any lack of interest in the election process.”

He said the elections would be held only in the DGHC areas, not in the five mouzas mentioned in the Sen report.

In Darjeeling, Morcha chief Bimal Gurung reacted with caution. “As of now, we oppose any elections to the GTA till the territory issue has been resolved. But I will seek a report from the delegates once they return to Darjeeling tomorrow and then take a decision.”

Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri, who led the delegation, said the party’s only demand at the meeting was that the report be rejected. “Our only demand today was the rejection of the report. Madam (Mamata) decided to set up a fact verification committee without any representation from the Morcha.”

Asked if the Morcha would participate in the election process, Giri said: “We did not discuss the elections today. It is up to the government.”

According to a media release issued by the home department, the three-member committee will be headed by north Bengal development secretary Manoj Agarwal. “(It) will look into any representation that may be submitted by any person, association or group on the factual aspects of the report of the high-powered committee headed by Justice Shyamal Sen,” the release said.

So far, no deadline has been set for the committee to submit its report. “We wanted the fact verification committee to submit its report within six months, but the chief minister said it would need more time,” Giri said.

Sources said the government hoped the Morcha would withdraw its agitation. “We hope that we have given the Morcha a credible reason to explain to the hill people that the government is trying to redress its grievances and call off its agitation,” a cabinet minister said. “We also hope that the Morcha will participate in the GTA elections.”

He said that once the elections were over, the new committee could give its report “in its own time”.

Mamata also met a 14-member team of Darjeeling civil society representatives led by tea planter Uday Kumai. Hill development was discussed, sources said.

Justice Sen told The Telegraph tonight: “I considered all the parameters I was asked to and submitted my report. The rest is up to the government. It does not concern me.”