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GTA officers for Gurung Delhi trip
- State govt says no change in bilateral talks promised by Mamata

Darjeeling, Aug. 13: Bimal Gurung for the first time took a team of GTA officials to Delhi to discuss development projects with central ministers today, barely a month after Mamata Banerjee spoke of bipartite talks with between the state government and the hill body.

Nobody from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which controls the GTA, or in the hill body itself wanted to say anything officially about the meetings.

Sources in the hills said Gurung’s move was an indication that he “has more faith in the Centre than the state government”.

A senior state government official said in Calcutta that Gurung’s meeting with the Centre would have no bearing on the bilateral talks promised by chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

“Their meetings in Delhi will not have an impact, positive or negative, on the bilateral talks promised.... We were waiting for the new principal secretary (of the GTA) to join, which happened three-four days ago. We have asked them for a suitable date for the meeting, once that is finalised, we will hold the bipartite talks as planned,” said the Nabanna official.

Mamata, during her visit to Darjeeling on July 18, had said the state would hold a bipartite meeting with the GTA within a month, followed by a tripartite meeting, to discuss issues related to the GTA.

Whenever Gurung had travelled to Delhi to meet Union ministers before today, no GTA official was with him.

The GTA chief executive today met Union minister of road transport and highway Nitin Gadkari, minister for tourism Shripad Yesso Naik and Prakash Javadekar, the minister of state (independent charge) for environment forests and climate change.

GTA secretary Don Bosco Lepcha, executive director for road Topden Bhutia, executive director of tourism Sonam Bhutia, executive engineer Kishore Ghimiray and assistant engineer of GTA Nayan Rai were with Gurung.

Apart from the GTA officials, Gurung was accompanied by Roshan Giri, Binay Tamang and P.T. Ola, all executive GTA Sabha members. Darjeeling MP S.S Ahluwalia was present at the meetings.

An email sent by Gurung to the media said many projects had been discussed in detail at the meeting with Gadkari and they would be implemented soon in the GTA area.

It was decided at the meeting that an alternative 85km national highway from Siliguri to Darjeeling via Mirik along the Balason river would be built. Gurung said 672km of roads would be built to connect remote areas under the GTA and there would also be the construction of 112 bridges.

The mail said that there would be immediate steps to repair the Coronation Bridge and NH55 with special focus on Tindharia.

Regarding the discussions with Naik, Gurung wrote: “The following projects were discussed in detail with the tourism minister and will be implemented soon in the GTA area.… The projects discussed the tourism ministers are: establishment of hospitality and tourism management institute, establishment of a Gorkha House at New Delhi, funds for Sidrapong hydel project, ropeways in Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Mirik, Kurseong along with thirty new projects for Darjeeling.”

The GTA chief said Javedekar had been requested to transfer the administration of reserved forest to the GTA as agreed upon in the GTA deal.

Prohibitory orders

The Kurseong administration clamped prohibitory orders over a 155acre plot at Ambootia tea estate following a dispute over the land between garden management and a cinchona plantation.

The order came into force yesterday evening and would be in place for 60 days.

Subdivisional officer, Kalimpong, U. Swaroop, said: “I have issued prohibitory orders under section 144 (CrPC) on 155 acres at Ambootia as both the garden management and the director of cinchona plantations are laying claim over the land. Following the orders, no one will be allowed to carry on any work in the area.”

Samuel Rai, director, cinchona and other medical plantations, said the plot had been handed over to them in 1977. But early this year, when they started planting cinchona on six acres of the total land, Ambootia garden laid claim to the entire 155 acres. “We were told the land belongs to M/S Hritik Investment Pvt Limited. We have records to show it was transferred to the plantation. When the land was transferred to the GTA in 2012, the plot was mentioned in the notification as part of cinchona plantation,” he said.

Sanjay Bansal, managing director of Hritik Investment Pvt Ltd, a sister concern of Ambootia Tea Group, that runs the garden, said: “In the 1970s, the administration initiated a process to reclaim the land from Ambootia estate. The process was never completed. In 1996, we applied for the plot and we got it in 2007.”

Cinchona plantation on 26,000 hectare is spread over Rongo and Mungsong in Kalimpong subdivision and Mungpoo and Latpanchar in Kurseong subdivision. It employs 5,350 workers and 1,272 others.

Swaroop said the administration would soon call a meeting to verify the claims of both the parties.