A girl in Darjeeling holds a placard on Tuesday demanding Gorkhaland. Picture by Suman Tamang
Aug. 6: The Bengal government today appointed a new district magistrate for Darjeeling in place of Saumitra Mohan, setting in motion a series of steps that reflect the state’s intention to tackle the unrest in the hills as a law-and-order problem.
Puneet Yadav, the joint secretary (finance), will take over from Mohan, who has been made the Burdwan district magistrate. Yadav, government sources said, has been briefed by the “top brass” on how to tackle the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-led statehood agitation and a possible restructuring of the party-dominated Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Sabha by way of fresh elections.
The government has given its nod to send IPS officer Jawed Shamim to the hills as a special inspector-general in charge of Kalimpong and Kurseong to bolster the police administration alongside deputy inspector-general (Darjeeling range) Damayanti Sen.
Writers’ sources, however, said the government’s move to treat the Gorkhaland agitation as a law-and-order issue, instead of a political one, could backfire.
The state has already deployed five companies of central forces in the hills.
“Troublemakers in the hills will be treated as law violators, as we do in the rest of the state. Stern action will be taken against offenders if they destroy property or obstruct thoroughfares,” a home department official said.
Sources in the regional passport office in Calcutta said the process had begun to impound the passport of a Morcha leader. “We will shortly alert the person and he will have to tell us why his passport will not be impounded,” said an official, who refused to disclose the name of the Morcha leader.
About Shamim’s posting in Darjeeling, a home department official said the special additional commissioner (headquarters), Calcutta police, would be made the special IG in charge of the Kalimpong and Kurseong subdivisions because of his experience of working in the hills between 1999 and 2003. Shamim was posted as the additional superintendent of police (headquarters) of Darjeeling.
“In 2000, Shamim led the encounter in Tinkatari between policemen and armed supporters of Chhatrey Subba,” said another home department official. Subba quit the GNLF following problems with party chief Subash Ghisingh.
According to sources in the home department, the Darjeeling police chief was asked to shortlist the cases pending against Morcha leaders, including Bimal Gurung, Roshan Giri and Binay Tamang, so that action could be initiated against them.
“The Morcha leaders were accused in several cases between 2007 and 2010,” said a police officer in Darjeeling. “Gurung’s supporters attacked a number of houses owned by GNLF leaders during the course of the unrest that continued for nearly two years from 2007.” The Morcha had demanded the withdrawal of such cases.
The Writers’ sources said the government’s approach could “backfire” as statehood was an “emotive” issue.
“Hill residents could perceive the government’s moves as vendetta against the statehood movement, which could make matters worse. The government is yet to send any political emissary to the hills since the statehood agitation restarted,” a bureaucrat said.
Home secretary Basudeb Banerjee today reached Darjeeling and spoke to district officials. He held a two-hour meeting from 5pm with R.D. Meena, the GTA principal secretary, outgoing district magistrate Mohan and police superintendent Kunal Aggarwal.
Banerjee refused comment on the talks. “I will submit my views to the chief minister when I return to Calcutta,” he said. He is scheduled to leave for Calcutta tomorrow.