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Power transfer to GTA nears end

- Cabinet minister rank for gurung
Bimal Gurung and Basudeb Banerjee at the Planters’ Club in Darjeeling on Monday. Picture by Suman Tamang

Darjeeling, Nov. 26: A meeting between the elected members of the GTA Sabha and the Bengal home secretary here today appeared to have paved the way for the smooth transfer of 57 subjects to the autonomous body.

The home secretary, Basudeb Banerjee, said after the meeting that the 57 subjects to be transferred to the GTA had been clubbed into 40 departments and notifications had already been issued to hand over 40 subjects to the autonomous body.

He also said the GTA chief executive, Bimal Gurung, had been accorded a status equivalent to the rank of a cabinet minister. The state government had earlier given him a rank equivalent to that of a minister of state (independent charge). Except Gurung, all other 44 elected members of the GTA Sabha were present at today’s meeting.

Banerjee, who was in Darjeeling more in his capacity as the principal secretary of the hill affairs department than the home secretary, held the meeting at the GTA headquarters at Lal Khoti. “The meeting has been extremely fruitful and we had detailed discussions on the transfer of departments and powers and clarifications sought by the GTA members on various issues,” said Banerjee.

“The 57 subjects mentioned in Section 26 of the GTA Act have been clubbed into 40 departments. Out of the 40 departments, notifications for the transfer of 27 departments have already been issued. We have asked the GTA to set up offices of three other departments, while the transfer of the remaining 10 departments will take place soon,” he added. The three departments whose offices have to be set up by the GTA are sports, statistic programme implementation and town and country planning. The three departments have offices only in Calcutta at present.

Banerjee also clarified that the GTA would have its own chief medical officer of health. At present the CMOH supervises both the GTA area and Siliguri subdivision which is not under the GTA but falls within Darjeeling district.

Lt. Col. (retd) Ramesh Allay, the deputy chief of the GTA, said: “All PWD bungalows in the GTA area will soon be handed over to the autonomous body.”

Roshan Giri, an executive Sabha member of the GTA in charge of education, said Dow Hill and Victoria Boys’ School in Kurseong, which were the only state run ICSE schools in Bengal, should be handed over to the GTA. “The state government has agreed on this count,” said Giri.

Other demands raised by Giri included powers to upgrade and grant recognition to schools, opening of a regional office of the West Bengal Council of Higher Education and filling up of vacant posts of school teachers without the concurrence of the state government. He also demanded that the Centre hand over the control of reserved forests to the GTA.

“It was agreed that the state will approach the Centre for creating a Zilla Sainik Board for the GTA and hand over of Sainik Guest House at Bagdogra in Siliguri subdivision to the GTA,” said Allay.

Later, the home secretary briefed Gurung on the meet.