|BM Garg is taken to court from the Darjeeling police station on Wednesday morning
Darjeeling, Sept. 11: One of the most prominent businessmen in Darjeeling and another industry representative were arrested today in what is being seen as a crackdown on those the government suspects to be patronising the statehood agitation.
B.M. Garg, the president of the Darjeeling Chamber of Commerce and Darjeeling Gymkhana Club, has been arrested for his alleged role in burning down a forest bungalow on August 1.
However, sources in the government indicated that B.M. Garg, who the administration believes is a “financier” of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, had been booked for lending support to the party which had paralysed the Darjeeling hills for over a month.
Within an hour of the arrest, shops in Darjeeling downed shutters. Sources said the shops would reopen tomorrow.
In the evening, Himangshu Garg, the press and publicity secretary of the Darjeeling Chamber of Commerce who had briefed the media on B.M. Garg’s arrest, was also arrested.
Sources in Darjeeling sadar police station said Himangshu was charged with shutting down shops today after the other businessman was arrested.
“Earlier, too, Ashoke Periwal (a businessman) was arrested in Kalimpong as the state government thought he was a financier and fund manager of the Morcha…. This crackdown is no different,” said a hill source.
|All shops in Darjeeling and Kalimpong downed shutters following the news of Garg’s arrest
Other than shops, everything else stayed open today.
B.M. Garg is the sole PDS distributor of foodgrain in Darjeeling and Ghoom. His family also owns a flourmill and he is the owner of the sole shopping mall, the Rink, in Darjeeling.
On August 27, the food and supplies department had sealed three of his godowns, but they were opened a few days after.
At that time, officials of the department had not given any explanation for sealing the godowns. But administrative sources in Siliguri had said the department suspected that foodgrains were being diverted to the Morcha, which was circulating them among supporters during the hill shutdown.
The Morcha said the party supported the traders’ shutdown for a day.
The businessman was produced before the chief judicial magistrate and remanded in a day’s jail custody. “The police wanted a two-day remand but the judge has asked for the case diary and a hearing will take place tomorrow. For a day he has been sent to judicial custody,” said Pankaj Prasad, the assistant public prosecutor.
B.M. Garg has been booked for his alleged role in burning down the Takdah Club, a 1911 planter’s bungalow where chief minister Mamata Banerjee had spent a night during one of her numerous visits to the hills.
Prasad said: “He (B.M. Garg) has been booked under Section 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intention to destroy), 477 (trespassing) and 120 B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC along with Section 3 of the Prevention of Destruction of Public Property.” The public prosecutor said “preliminary investigation suggests he was involved in commissioning of the crime”.
A trader said that whenever the hill parties tried to wind down the strike, the police made big-ticket arrests.
“When the strike was to be lifted from August 24, the state government arrested Binay Tamang on August 21, forcing the Morcha to call an indefinite shutdown again. When the strike has been relaxed, B.M. Garg has been arrested today. The timing casts doubts on the state government’s intentions,” said the trader.
Roshan Giri, general secretary of the Morcha, said: “We condemn the continuous arrest of innocent people. The move only shows how desperate the government is trying to crush our movement but they will not be successful as this is a people’s movement.”
He said: “B.M. Garg is not our financier. But each and every person in the Darjeeling hills is contributing to our statehood movement.”
After his arrest, B.M. Garg said: “We, too, want normality to return to the hills but we cannot understand what is happening around us.”
Himangshu Garg, before he was arrested, said: “What is the fault of the business community? It wants normalilty but now anyone can be arrested. It will be difficult to conduct trade in such an atmosphere.”
|Other activities were unaffected. Picture shows pupils returning home after school. Pictures by Suman Tamang
The business chamber submitted a deputation to district magistrate Puneet Yadav that said: “The business community in the hills has, since the period of political turmoil in the 80’s, been faced with various challenges and has always tried to strike the right balance between the administration and the local political parties to maintain peace and harmony in the hills…. But this act by the administration has shaken the foundation of the trust shared between the administration and the local business community.”