The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Strike threat stokes turmoil fear

Darjeeling, March 8: The GNLF today threatened a string of strikes adding up to 91 days if the government did not bow to its demands, casting a shadow on the region's resurgent economy.

The spell of strikes, slated to begin with a three-day bandh on March 16, will continue till June.

Deepak Gurung, the president of the GNLF branch committee here, said if the demands concerning the hill council were not met, it would go ahead with its strike 'schedule'.

The threat comes before the meeting of the GNLF's central committee on March 12.

'If the government does not send the right signals even after the three-day strike, we will call a five-day strike from March 26, followed by 13 days of strike from April 9,' Gurung said. The GNLF has also threatened to call a strike for 21 days in May and follow it up with a 51-day bandh in June.

The ominous call has exceeded the strike record set by the GNLF 15 years ago. In 1988, the party brought the hills to a standstill with a 40-day bandh.

The strike threat, to make the government concede to its demand for an 'alternative' to the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council and the nomination of Ghisingh as its 'caretaker', once its term expires on March 26, has come as a blow to business, especially tourism.

To add to that, the DGHC secretaries and councillors have threatened to resign en masse if Ghisingh is not made the caretaker.

'We appeal to all parties to refrain from calling a bandh during the tourist season as tourism is one of the major industries in the hills,' said Suresh Periwal, the representative of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (north Bengal and Sikkim chapter).

Booking patterns indicate that Darjeeling is set for a 25 per cent rise in foreign visitors this year, he pointed out.

Around 35,000 foreigners are expected to visit Darjeeling while the number of domestic tourists visiting the hill station is pegged at 4 lakh. The strike in the Darjeeling hills might also severely affect the industry in Sikkim.

'Tourism is a very sensitive industry and a mere threat will trigger cancellations. We appeal to the GNLF to restrain from calling the strikes,' said Pradip Tamang, the secretary of the Darjeeling Association of Travel Agents. Tourism had only recently begun showing signs of resurgence since falling into the doldrums during the Gorkhaland movement.

Madan Tamang, an Opposition leader in the council, said the threat proves it is time for Ghisingh to go.

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