Gautam Deb at the meeting in Bagdogra on Sunday. Picture by Kundan Yolmo
Bagdogra, Sept. 29: North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb today requested Darjeeling residents to maintain peace and criticised the Centre for removing four companies of paramilitary forces from the hills without consulting the state.
Deb spoke to the media after attending the first district conference of the Darjeeling Kisan Khet Mazdoor Trinamul Congress — farmers’ front.
“Less than a fortnight is left for the festival season. Also, tourists have started flocking to Darjeeling and we are expecting a great tourist season ahead. The situation in the hills had returned to normal and there has been a major development as the new chief executive of the GTA has been elected on Friday. At this juncture, we would urge all the residents of the hills and plains to maintain peace,” he said.
“Those who are trying to renew tension in the hills will face the consequences in the form of strict administrative and police action,” he added.
When the minister was asked about yesterday’s incident of alleged molestation of a schoolgirl by a RAF constable in Darjeeling, he dodged the question.
“Regarding the so-called incident, all we can say is that the police are investigating the case and have taken necessary steps. The person in question has been arrested,” he said.
“However, even after the step being taken by the police, it is unfortunate that a section of trouble makers has incited some residents and has tried to create tension across the hills. We want to reiterate that the state government is ready to work for development in the hills but will handle any attempt to break the law with strong hands,” the minister added.
Deb also criticised the Centre for removing four companies of paramilitary forces from the hills.
“At a time when the state government is making every possible attempt to restore peace and normalcy in the hills, the Centre has withdrawn four companies of paramilitary forces and has expressed its intention to withdraw the remaining four companies which are in hills. Such steps have posed a serious question on the intentions of the central government and the Congress,” said Deb.
The paramilitary forces were deployed in phases from July 29.
Nine companies of the CRPF were deployed after the Morcha announced the hill strike.
Four battalions of the RAF were also stationed.
“It is disappointing to note that despite law and order being a state subject, the Centre is unilaterally taking such decisions regarding withdrawal of forces. Such decisions, we feel, are only strengthening the morale of those who have hatched the conspiracy to divide Bengal and turn Darjeeling hills into a disturbed territory,” he added.
At the meeting, where the district committee, in its presidential report, has mentioned that they are against any division of Bengal and Darjeeling district, it was also mentioned that the farmers’ front would continue to function in the rural pockets of Siliguri subdivision.
“We intend to expand our base to ensure that we secure absolute majority in all the three tiers of the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad polls to be held after six months or so in the four blocks of Siliguri sub-divisions,” reads the report.
Becharam Manna, the minister of state for agriculture, who was present at the meeting, said: “Some political parties and separatist forces are trying to deter our government from implementing such initiatives for their own political interests and to create tension in different areas across the state.”