Siliguri, Nov. 22: Asok Bhattacharya today demanded that the state government shift to Siliguri offices of the departments that will be handed over to the interim authority in the Darjeeling hills.
“Considering the steady rise in the population of Siliguri subdivision, it is imminent that a parallel administrative set-up with appropriate infrastructure be established here,” said Bhattacharya, the CPM MLA and urban development minister, at a media conference in Siliguri.
Bhattacharya said a letter had been sent to the chief minister on November 20 with the demand to shift the offices.
Explaining the logic of the demand, the minister said once the interim authority came into effect, new offices would take care of the subjects that would be handed over to the hill set-up and the working of the district offices would suffer.
“The activities at the district offices would take a backseat. So we want the offices to be relocated to Siliguri. Since Siliguri would be the only subdivision outside the interim authority’s jurisdiction in Darjeeling district, these offices would have to concentrate and function for the Terai and the Siliguri Municipal Corporation area,” a CPM leader said.
Bhattacharya said his party had also demanded the creation of the post of a police commissioner for the SMC area (see chart) much like Calcutta for better maintenance of law and order and formation of a separate regional transport authority (RTA).
“But we want to clarify that all these demands are not for a separate district but for better administrative infrastructure. Much like Darjeeling, we want the state government to form a separate administrative unit or a separate block, comprising the 14 added wards of the SMC and the four panchayats that are in Jalpaiguri district.”
Currently, residents of the four panchayat areas have to travel at least 45km to reach Jalpaiguri for any administrative job, the minister said.
The party has also made a list of six departments — higher education, police and administration, tea estates, judiciary, heavy industries and national highways — for the chief minister to ensure that these are not handed over to the proposed hill authority.
Bhattacharya’s party also wants a clarification from Union home minister P. Chidambaram over the conferring of Union Territory status to the Darjeeling hills. The Morcha has been claiming for sometime that after the end of the tenure of the interim set-up, the Centre would have no option but to grant Union Territory status to the hills.
“After being sidelined in the hills by common people, the Morcha leaders are now blowing trumpets on how Chidambaram has assured them a Union Territory status,” the minister said. “We don’t think he has said so but want him to spell out what exactly was discussed at the last meeting held between him and the Morcha leaders. His silence is leading to confusion and might create unpleasant situations like it had happened in the case of Telangana.”
Reacting to Bhattacharya’s allegations, Morcha general secretary Roshan Giri said: “Darjeeling will continue to be the district headquarters even after the formation of the authority. We oppose any demand to relocate the government offices to Siliguri, which is only a subdivisional headquarters like Kurseong and Darjeeling towns.”