Darjeeling, Aug. 13: The state government today opened a fresh flank of conflict with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha over the process of electing Bimal Gurung’s successor to head the GTA Sabha.
According to sources, home secretary Basudeb Banerjee, who visited Darjeeling today, said the GTA Sabha members could not make a nominated member head the autonomous body as it went against the GTA act.
The Morcha had more or less decided to install 86-year-old Brikhu Bhusal, a nominated member of the Sabha who has a tailoring business, as Morcha chief Bimal Gurung has resigned. The Morcha has two nominated members in the Sabha, Trinamul three.
A source said: “The state government is of the opinion that if a nominated member is to be made the chief executive, then the Sabha will have to write to the government which will then select a nominated member to be the chief executive. However, the state government believes that even this nominated chief executive will have to conduct elections within 15 days to elect a chief executive from among the elected GTA members.”
The Morcha, however, has read the GTA act differently.
Roshan Giri, the party’s general secretary who is an executive member of the GTA Sabha, said: “The act is not clear on whether only an elected member can be made the chief executive of the GTA.”
A Morcha leader cited various sub-sections of Section 37 of the act in a bid to drive home the point.
The party leader said: “Section 37(6) of the GTA act states that ‘there shall be a chief executive of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration who shall be elected by the elected members from among themselves’.
The Morcha leader said the government was reading only this section but not Section 37(8), which “is more pertinent as it speaks of a casual vacancy as is the case with the office of the chief executive of the GTA”.
He said the first part of Section 37(8) reads: “‘In the case of any casual vacancy in the office of the Chief Executive, caused by death, resignation, removal or otherwise, the elected members shall, in accordance with such procedure as may be prescribed, elect one of the members to fill up the vacancy’.”
The Morcha leader said: “Had it been the intention of the legislature to restrict the choice only to elected members, the language of 37(6) would have been replicated in 37(8). The legislature, however, has chosen to widen the pool of eligible members for the appointment as chief executive to all members whether elected or nominated in the case of casual vacancy.”
What the Morcha leader emphasised was that the first part of Section 37(8) did not specify that the elected members would have to elect a GTA Sabha chief “from among themselves”, unlike Section 37(6).
Sources said the Morcha was citing this sub-section in the GTA Act to drive home the point that a nominated member can be made the chief executive in the event of a “casual vacancy”. Asked about the government’s stand that if the Sabha wanted a nominated member to be chief executive then it should write to the government, the Morcha leader said this provision of the act was not applicable at the moment. “The home secretary is talking about the second part of the Section 37(8) and this cannot be applicable at the moment,” the leader said.
The second part of the Section 37 (8) says if the election is “pending”, the government may appoint “one of the members to be the Chief Executive who shall hold office… until a Chief Executive, elected in accordance with the provisions of this Act and the rules made thereunder enters upon his office”.
The Morcha leader said: “There is no question of the election being pending as the GTA Sabha has been called to elect a chief executive and the state government’s interpretation is wrong.”
Sources today said Banerjee, who held an administrative meeting at Richmond Hill in Darjeeling, directed GTA principal secretary R.D. Meena to accept the request made by Bhupendra Pradhan, the chairman of the GTA Sabha, to call a meeting to elect the next chief executive on August 16.
“A decision was today taken that the GTA Sabha meeting will be held at 2.30pm on August 16 and the same has been communicated over phone to the GTA Sabha members,” said a hill source.
Sources in the Morcha said the party’s legal cell was exploring possibilities of taking the state government to court if it did not allow the election of the nominated member.
The Morcha was weighing all options, including going to court. The final call would be taken by Gurung in a day or two, the Morcha source said.
Gurung today said the agitation would resume on August 19.
“The agitation will continue from the August 19. The Morcha will continue to exercise its freedom of expression, speech and will assemble peacefully to press their demand for Gorkhaland. We will let the people know our plans on August 16,” he said near his home in Tukvar.
The home secretary also held a meeting on law and order. “To start with, water canons will be brought to Darjeeling next week,” said a source.
The police have today arrested 30 Morcha activists and Manoj Tamang, a Morcha leader from Gorubathan.