Children in traditional Gorkha attire in a march for statehood in the heart of Darjeeling town on Monday. Picture by Suman Tamang
Calcutta, Aug. 12: The state government has adopted a two-pronged strategy to tackle the statehood strike called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha — arranging supply of essentials on one side and using the local administration to ensure that shopowners keep businesses open.
The 72-hour deadline that chief minister Mamata Banerjee had set for the Morcha to withdraw the strike ended today.
Trinamul minister Gautam Deb today said in Siliguri: “The 72-hour deadline will end tomorrow. We will hold a high level-meeting at my Siliguri office and chalk out the plan to distribute rations, medicines and other essentials to the people in the hills. Thousands of people are in distress and we will open all existing ration shops to distribute foodgrain. If required, we would also set up camps to distribute food.”
The announcement is significant as there have been reports from different parts of the hills that people are facing difficulties because of the indefinite strike that started on August 3.
Aware that the deficit in supply of essentials may result in resentment at the ground level, the Morcha leadership has already started distributing food items, even cooked food, in some parts of the hills. It has also announced a three-day relaxation of the strike from August 16-18.
At Writers’, officials said the government was keen to be “visible” in the hills and be seen as restoring “normality”.
State food minister Jyotipriya Mallick, home secretary, food commissioner and the transport secretary will reach Siliguri tomorrow to meet Deb.
As part of the strategy, NBSTC buses would ply between the hills and plains from Wednesday.
Transport minister Madan Mitra said if somebody wanted to travel to and from hills, the government would make arrangements.
“State-run buses will ply to ensure hassle-free travel. If anyone wants to obstruct government transport movement, they will be dealt with strictly,” he said.
“The transport minister may come here tomorrow to chalk out the plans to run buses. We want to make it clear that the state will take all possible steps to restore normalcy in the hills for the sake of common people who are suffering,” Deb, who is the north Bengal development minister, said.
Besides making its presence felt in the hills, the administration has started building pressure on the local traders so that they open their shops.
“We have visited the houses of 17 traders in Darjeeling town and examined their trade licences last night. The traders were cautioned that their licences might be cancelled if they do not open their shops once the 72-hour deadline announced by the chief minister is over,” said an officer of the district administration.
The state government can initiate action against traders under the provisions of the West Bengal Shops and Establishment Act, 1963.
“The high court has already… directed the state government to initiate measures to restore normalcy in the hills. This order has given us enough liberty to implement the norms mentioned in rule books that may include cancellation of trade licences,” said the officer.
“Our visit served a message to the traders.... We don’t know how much it will help us, but it will definitely spread fear among the traders in the hills,” said an officer of the district administration.