Darjeeling, Jan. 22: Restoration and revival — of heritage, sports and hill relations — were the themes of Mamata Banerjee’s trip to Darjeeling today.
The chief minister today opened the renovated Roy Villa, where Sister Nivedita had breathed her last in 1911. She also seconded Bhaichung Bhutia when he requested that the Darjeeling Gold Cup soccer tournament, which was last held in 2011, should be revived.
In hill relations, the past year’s turmoil has given way to better ties between the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-led GTA and the state government.
On January 29, 2013, Mamata’s unity call — she said Darjeeling “is a part of us” — had sparked cries in favour of statehood.
Today, like on January 29, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief Bimal Gurung was by her side. But on both sides now “development” is the word mentioned most frequently.
PTI quoted Gurung as saying today: “We want to develop tourism…. The GTA will work together as the relations have improved now (with the state).”
At the second event in Lebong Stadium, Mamata also harped on progress. “I want children from the hills to become IAS, IPS, doctors, engineers and lead the country.... They are our future,” she said.
At Roy Villa, which is now under the Ramakrishna Mission, Mamata expressed surprise that the renovation was completed so quickly. “I could not believe Roy Villa would be ready so soon after exchanging the youth hostel…. We want to develop Darjeeling into an international place of interest.”
On May 16 last year, the state government, the GTA and the Ramakrishna Mission had signed a tripartite agreement in which the state and the GTA agreed to exchange control of Roy Villa and a youth hostel named after Tenzing Norgay.
Roy Villa had been under the control of the GTA and the youth hostel was with the state government. The state government gave Rs 1 crore for the renovation of the building. Later, it was handed over to the Ramakrishna Mission.
The property has now been turned into the Ramakrishna Mission Nivedita Educational and Cultural Centre, a branch of Belur Math.
Roy Villa was built in 1901 by Dwarka Nath Roy, brother-in-law of Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose. Sister Nivedita died here in 1911.
A school of languages, a computer training centre, a coaching centre for competitive examinations, a health camp and a study centre for poor children will function from the restored Roy Villa.
Ramakrishna Mission general secretary Swami Suhitananda requested the chief minister to help the organisation build cottages for tourists visiting Roy Villa, to which Mamata agreed and added some more plans for developing infrastructure in the area.
“Cottages can be built here…. We have plans to build a road connecting the Mall to Roy Villa like the walks we have in foreign countries. We have to develop the area in a way that local youths get employment,” Mamata said.
In a Facebook post, the chief minister wrote: “You may all know that at the historic “Roy Villa” in Darjeeling, Sister Nivedita spent her last days. We had handed over this building last year, to Ramakrishna Mission for renovation….
“We are developing an international tourist centre around “Roy Villa” so that tourists from all parts of the world can come here and enjoy its pristine serenity.”
From Roy Villa on Lebong Cart Road, Mamata went to Lebong Stadium where she awarded the winners of the Himal-Dooars-Terai Sports meet and the first Amway Darjeeling Police Marathon, held on January 12 in association with The Telegraph.
At both venues, Gurung was present.
Also on the dais were former footballers Shyam Thapa and Bhaichung Bhutia along with a host of other players from Calcutta who are regulars at events held by the state government and Trinamul.
Bhaichung, while he was being felicitated by the chief minister, requested her to revive the Darjeeling Gold Cup which had served as a launchpad for several footballers in north Bengal.
“I would request the state government to revive the Darjeeling Gold Cup and also strengthen the local leagues to provide a window of opportunity to young players in the area,” Bhaichung said. The chief minister quickly said: “We want the Darjeeling Gold Cup to start immediately.”
Gurung, too, agreed on encouraging sports. “Sports is very important for physical fitness, and today it can help people establish themselves. Bhaichung is an example of that.” The Morcha chief also praised the police for organising the January 12 run for peace in Darjeeling.
The Darjeeling Gold Cup was started in 1975. It used to be organised by the Darjeeling District Sports Association. Mohun Bagan won the cup in the inaugural year. The tournament was played till 1985 but after the Gorkhaland agitation started under the leadership of Subash Ghisingh, the tournament was stopped in 1986. In 2010, the tournament was revived and the Army XI beat Southern Samity to win the Cup. In 2011, too, the tournament was held. Tata Football Academy beat United Sikkim, the club co-owned by Bhaichung, in the final.
But since 2012, the tournament has not been organised.
In the evening, Mamata met Morcha leaders in Richmond Hill, the state guest house. Gurung, while leaving the meeting, said they had requested her for ST status for the Gorkha community, except for those that are Scheduled Castes.