Sept. 10: An action committee has suspended the Darjeeling strike till October 20, lifting the cloud over the Puja-driven tourist season and unwittingly conceding that the state government’s tough policy has yielded results for the time being.
The decision to put the strike, which has been in force for 44 days with intermittent breaks, on hold was taken by the Gorkhaland Joint Action Committee (JAC), which is steering the statehood movement. The Gorkha Janmutki Morcha is a constituent of the committee.
The committee found a face-saver in an assurance by the Union home minister that a tripartite meeting would be convened.
But sources said the hill leaders also took into consideration the approaching tourist season and the bonus talks in tea gardens.
The tourist season starts from the first week of October, covering the main Puja days from October 10 to 14, and carries on till November-end.
Morcha MLA Harka Bahadur Chhetri, a spokesperson for the committee, conceded that the feeling that the Centre could not take any decision on Darjeeling until next year’s Lok Sabha election was “at the back of the leaders’ minds”.
Morcha leader Bimal Gurung today replaced Enos Das Pradhan as the JAC president. The JAC will meet on October 19 to decide the future course, which means that no strike would be called in the hills till then unless any drastic development takes place.
Tour operators and hoteliers in north Bengal said they were relieved. Many tour operators were bracing for the worst as foreign tourists had begun cancelling bookings.
The losses would have been higher than usual this time because of the sharp plunge in the value of the rupee against the dollar. If the tours are cancelled because of factors outside the control of the tourists, the operators refund a part of the amount.
Most bookings from abroad were done five to six months in advance and the intervening rupee crash would have meant the operators would have had to repay more than what they got when reservations were made.
“Most foreign tourists had booked their trips when the value of a dollar was around Rs 55. If the bookings are cancelled now, we will have to pay at the current rate of Rs 63 to 64. Today’s decision could bring some respite,” said Raj Basu, a veteran tour operator.