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It's your show, Mamata tells Darjeeling

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee at Chowrastha in Darjeeling on Wednesday. Picture by Passang Yolmo

Darjeeling: Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday told Darjeeling that the Bengal government had no intention to interfere in the affairs of the hills, seeking to allay fears among a section that Nabanna wanted to run its writ in the hills.

"It's your Darjeeling and you will have to run the show here," the chief minister said during her address at the prize distribution ceremony of Himal Terai Dooars Sports Festival, 2017-18.

Hundreds of young men and women were given prizes at the one-and-a-half-hour programme held at Chowrastha, the main square in the Queen of the Hills.

Unlike in the past, the chief minister did not harp on the theme that Darjeeling was an integral part of Bengal. In a mellower approach, she stressed that Darjeeling was part of India and the people of the hills had the right to their own course.

"The GTA was formed so that you can manage the affairs of the hills.... After five years of its existence, a board with Vinay Tamang and Anit Thapa at the helm is running the GTA. The state government is only lending a helping hand," she said, making it clear that the government had only a supporting role.

The demand for a separate state has been an emotive issue in the hills for decades though many of its proponents have occasionally said they also have doubts about its feasibility.

After the flare-up last year, higher autonomy for the hills has become the talking point and several models are being explored as attempts are being made to find a permanent solution.

Against this backdrop, Mamata's assurance of Nabanna's arm's length from the hill affairs assumed significance. "That one sentence, in which she said we will have to run the show, was greatly appreciated," said a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader.

Mamata stressed she had no political interest in Darjeeling - "I don't come to seek votes here. The three MLAs belong to the Morcha and the Lok Sabha seat is with the BJP."

She accused the neighbouring state of Sikkim of fuelling unrest in the hills. "I love Sikkim but people from there dole out cash to create disturbance here. We want Sikkim to stay well.... Then why do they try to create unrest here? If there is unrest in Darjeeling, Sikkim gets the benefit," Mamata said, explaining the cost of unrest on tourism.

Land rights

Binay Tamang, the GTA head, met Mamata in Darjeeling on Wednesday and said the state government was looking into the "technicalities" of providing land rights to tea garden workers and forest dwellers.

Many residents of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri districts do not have land rights.

Over 60 per cent of hill people live in tea gardens and cinchona plantations. This holds true for the plains, too.

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