Sept. 7: Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde today said he had told Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leaders at a meeting on September 3 that tripartite talks would be held only if the party called off the indefinite strike in the hills.
“I told them that they should withdraw the agitation, only then can we have talks with three parties,” Shinde told a media conference in Delhi.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had criticised the Centre on Thursday, accusing it of “trying to go behind the state’s back and divide Bengal”.
The minister of state for home, R.P.N. Singh, had said in Parliament yesterday that the “only assurance” given to the hill delegation was that the Union home secretary would hold a tripartite meeting with the Bengal chief secretary and representatives of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) to look into the Morcha’s grievances.
Shinde today said the September 3 meeting was held because Jaswant Singh, Darjeeling’s BJP MP, had sought an appointment.
The minister said he had called up Mamata at noon that day but she was busy with a meeting in Kalimpong.
Mamata had said on Thursday that the Centre “must remember the federal structure and that the state cannot be kept out of these discussions”.
Glare on red cross
The Morcha-affiliated transport union in Darjeeling has threatened to seize licences and other documents of drivers and owners of commercial and private vehicles sporting the red cross to ferry people other than patients during the ongoing strike.
The All Transport Joint Action Committee, an umbrella organisation of commercial vehicles in Darjeeling, said drivers and car owners were “taking advantage” of the relaxation for emergency services, which include ambulances, to ferry passengers who were not patients.
People in the hills have been sticking the red cross on their vehicles to ferry patients to hospitals in Darjeeling and Siliguri during the strike. Because of a dearth of good health-care facilities in Darjeeling, residents often have to fall back on hospitals in Siliguri.
“We have noticed that a large number of private vehicles are sporting the red cross to ferry people other than patients. They are taking hill people to Siliguri and back for various purposes. From Wednesday, we will keep a strict vigil on vehicles,” Norbu Lama, president of the transport union, said at a Morcha rally at the Darjeeling Motor Stand today.
He said many hill residents were travelling to Siliguri for shopping.