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Gurung seeks referendum on market

- GTA chief says construction at Chowrasta spoils its ‘sanctity, serenity and tranquillity’

Darjeeling, June 15: Bimal Gurung today called for a referendum to find out if residents of the hill town would be in favour of the Darjeeling district administration’s move to set up a hawkers’ market at the Chowrasta.

On Friday, the Darjeeling municipality had directed the district magistrate’s office to stop construction of the market as the plan of the project hadn’t been sanctioned by the civic body.

On May 22, a group of residents stopped contractors from marking trees at Chowrasta so that they could be cut down to make way for the hawkers’ market whose foundation had been laid by the chief minister in January.

In a post on Facebook, the GTA chief executive said: “With all humility, I first wish to counter a myth that ‘the Administration is the most powerful entity in India’. It is not. Thanks to our constitution, that honour goes to the common people of our great nation. As the people of Darjeeling are opposing the construction of a concrete structure in Chowrasta, as planned by the District Administration, I feel that a referendum must be undertaken to determine if the people are supportive of the district administration’s move or not.”

A referendum is not a commonly used option by administrators in India.

A rare instance was January 4, 2003, when the Siliguri Municipal Corporation asked residents in four wards of the Sevoke Road area to vote on whether trees along a stretch from Panitanki More to Bypass area should be uprooted to widen the Sevoke Road. The majority of the people favoured the uprooting of the trees.

Sources said Gurung was aware of the referendum by the SMC and he wanted a similar exercise in Darjeeling.

Amar Singh Rai, the chairman of the Darjeeling municipality, said: “We are open to this idea. A referendum would definitely help us gauge public sentiment on this issue.”

Gurung said Chowrasta was the only patch of green left in Darjeeling town and no work should be undertaken there. “I have always said that no trees should be cut in Chowrasta in the name of Development, and specifically said so in relation to the proposed hawker’s market on May 23, 2014. That does not mean that I am supportive of a building which is built in Chowrasta without cutting any trees. I am against any concrete building in Chowrasta. Period! It is the only patch of greenery that we have left in Darjeeling town,” said the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief.

He also said: “... I am against the location of the hawker’s market as selected by the district administration, which spoils the sanctity, serenity and tranquillity of Chowrasta.”

The GTA chief said he was not against a market for the hawkers. “I strongly support the hawkers’ right to a permanent place from where they can earn their livelihood, and towards that end the GTA has already given the Darjeeling Municipality Rs. 1 crore to construct a hawker’s market in Chowk Bazar.” Puneet Yadav, the district magistrate, couldn’t be contacted.