The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Writers' sours Ghisingh victory
- Cloud on poll but officer to take over

Calcutta, Feb. 21: The government today virtually deferred the elections to the autonomous Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council and said it would appoint an administrator to run the body after its term expires on March 25.

Urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya said: 'We are trying to hold the elections by March 25, but there are certain problems in doing so. These relate mainly to the Madhyamik examinations, which begin later this month, and the higher secondary examinations from March 22.'

The statement hardly masked the government's realisation that it was not in a position to force the hill elections without Ghisingh's cooperation, though the Gorkha National Liberation Front chief is perceived to be losing ground.

The hill leader had wanted the government to shelve the polls ' due to be held by March 25 ' till all his demands were met.

Before bowing to Ghisingh's pressure in a way, the government, however, tried to ruin his moment by unveiling the plan to appoint the administrator to take charge of the council. Ghisingh would have liked to hold the reins of the council till the polls were completed. He had been seeking an extension of the council's tenure as well as greater control over its finances. Ghisingh had even wanted the council to be empowered to recruit policemen and control policing in the hills.

The Gorkha leader has made it clear time and again that the elections to the council are 'secondary' till the 'problems' affecting the council are settled.

A tripartite meeting chaired by Union home minister Shivraj Patil in Delhi on Thursday had failed to end the standoff over the elections. Ghisingh and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee could not come to an agreement on what should come first ' elections before the deadline or a review of the council's powers.

The law department is examining the possibilities arising out of the situation, the urban development minister said today. 'In case the elections are not held by March 25, when the present term of the council ends, an administrator will have to be appointed for the hills and the DGHC act amended,' Bhattacharya said.

An amendment to the act would be brought about either in the Assembly or by the government in the form of an ordinance. The minister said there is no legal provision to extend the council's term for a third time. 'The government has already done that twice before.'

Ghisingh has been opposing the elections on the grounds that the current council was virtually powerless and its ambit needed to be reviewed. The Gorkha leader has also raised objections to the term 'autonomous' in the council. The chief minister had agreed to get the word dropped but refused to back his demand that the hills be declared tribal area.

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