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Hill parties walk out of meeting

Darjeeling, March 18: The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and other political parties based in the hills today walked out of a meeting convened by the Darjeeling subdivisional officer to discuss the preparations for elections to protest the decision to count votes only in Siliguri.

Traditionally, two counting centres are set up for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency, one in the hill town for three Assembly segments in the hills and the other in Siliguri for four Assembly constituencies in the plains.

Puneet Yadav, the district magistrate of Darjeeling, had earlier said the counting centre would not be set up in Darjeeling as St Joseph’s School (North Point) had refused permission to use its playground for the purpose citing a high court order in the institute’s favour. The Darjeeling counting centre was always set up on the North Point ground.

The representatives of the hill parties were officially told about the administration’s decision at the meeting today. Raju Pradhan, the assistant general secretary of the Morcha, said: “All the parties immediately protested the administration’s decision not to set up a counting centre in Darjeeling. Votes have always been counted in Darjeeling. All the parties staged a walkout,” said Pradhan.

The CPRM, GNLF and the ABGL also boycotted the meeting.

The Morcha said it had complained to the Election Commission about the counting at a single centre in Siliguri.

Darjeeling Sadar SDO, S. Mandal, said he was not authorised to speak to the media.