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Hills versus plains in rural progress race

- Deb shifts focus to Parishad after govt says GTA area would be reviewed separately

Siliguri, Dec. 22: Gautam Deb has turned his attention to the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad (SMP), the apex body in the three-tier panchayat system that functions in rural areas of Siliguri sub-division, after the state government reportedly said it would see Darjeeling district’s performance separately as GTA and non-GTA areas.

Deb’s north Bengal development ministry was classified among the better performers in the assessment made by chief minister Mamata Banerjee recently. The report on the ministries was evaluated in terms of allocation of funds and creation of projects. Deb’s department scored 146 per cent, second to Subrata Mukherjee’s panchayat department.

“We have learnt from administrative sources that for the Darjeeling district, the assessment of progress would be done separately for plains and hills as there is the GTA in the hills. It is evident from this that the assessment of the Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad would be done separately. That is why we have thought of focusing more on rural belts so that the SMP area emerges as one of the top places in terms of implementation of different welfare schemes related to employment, women and child health, sanitation, housing, irrigation, roads, education and likewise,” Deb said today.

The Parishad is now with Trinamul that wrested it from the CPM by wooing a Left member and all three Congress members to the ruling party.

Deb would not say explicitly that the Parishad had now been pitted in direct competition with the GTA, but a source in the Parishad said as much.

The Parishad source said the pressure has now come on the minister and his colleagues in the rural body, particularly as the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in the hills has also said today that it is now keen to take up development work through the GTA.

“As the progress would be considered separately in the GTA and Parishad areas, the pressure would be there because the minister and Parishad representatives will have to prove that they are doing better than the GTA in terms of parameters such as average number of days for which work has been offered to people under the rural job plan, the rural literacy rate and number of children enrolled under mid-day meal scheme,” the source said.

“Trinamul will always want the Parishad to perform better than the GTA as it can then mount pressure on Morcha representatives to work more. It would be a sort of competition, which, eventually, would lead to development of rural areas across Darjeeling district, whether it is the plains or the hills,” the source added.

Deb, asked about his “assessment report,” said: “Now that I could achieve this level with the help of officials of my department and agencies like the SJDA and above all, the chief minister and my cabinet colleagues, pressure has increased for me and my department.”

He said he would “have to try and ensure that I keep maintaining the pace. It was the chief minister’s idea to open the department for development of north Bengal and we need to strive and execute projects to justify the case.”

In Siliguri today, Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said the GTA would focus on development work across the hills.

Giri’s statement came on the heels of Morcha chief Bimal Gurung’s trip to Calcutta and his one-to-one with chief minister Mamata Banerjee at Nabanna on December 20.

After the meeting, the former GTA chief confirmed his return to the post and that the two-tier panchayat polls in GTA area — which were held back in 2002 in the then DGHC area — might be held in July next year.

“It is the people of hills who had urged our party president to return to his post of chief executive of the GTA. We have decided to focus entirely on the GTA and carry out development work across hills so that the impending problems of the people in relation to infrastructure and basic services can be mitigated,” Giri said.

Gurung, when asked by the newsmen on his meeting with Mamata Banerjee and his prospective retreat to GTA’s top elected post, denied making any comment.