Landslide victims call strike in Mirik

Process to rebuild homes faces land hurdle, estate owner seeks compensation to uproot tea bushes

By Vivek Chhetri in Darjeeling
  • Published 2.03.16
A area in Tingling that was affected by the 2015 landslide. (Suman Tamang)

Darjeeling, March 1: People affected by last year's landslide at Tingling in Singbuli tea garden called a 12-hour strike in Mirik today to protest the administration and management's failure to give them land to rebuild their homes.

All shops, educational institutions and markets in Mirik were shut today in support of the strike called by the United Tingling Victims' Rehabilitation Committee. The labourers of Singbuli garden also stayed away from work.

"For eight months, we have been waiting for land to build houses. If the construction does not start now, houses cannot be built before the monsoon," said Thomas Thapa, the president of the victim's committee, an apolitical organisation. He said they had no other options but to call the strike.

On July 1, 2015, 19 people from Limbugaon in Tingling, 10km from Mirik, were killed in a landslide. In total, 40 went missing in several slides that day.

According to the committee, more than 150 houses have to be shifted to safer places in Tingling. "Four houses were completely washed away, 22 were fully damaged and around 130 have been partially damaged," Thapa said.

A plot had been identified in Singbuli garden's Tingling block 10 to build the houses. But the process of land allocation has not been completed. While the management is seeking compensation for tea bushes that have to be uprooted in the plot, the administration has been saying the compensation cannot be granted to the estate owner as it is their obligation to provide the houses.

The Singbuli management said since the estate had been leased out by the state , the administration should give a no objection certificate to resume the land (change the land use pattern) and classify the plantation area as non-plantation area. "The estate should also be given compensation as lot of tree bushes have to be uprooted," said garden manager S. Mantri. The management said they would have considered giving land without compensation had it been few houses. "The question is about more than 140 houses," Mantri said.

On February 18, 2016, the Mirik block development officer had called a meeting that was attended by the victim's committee, garden management and representatives of political parties, including the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and Trinamul. " It had been agreed that the management would provide 8,000sqft to construct 10 houses to start with. There has been no progress after that," said Thapa. "Work has not started because of lack of clarity on the permission and compensation issue."

Darjeeling district magistrate Anurag Srivastava said: "It is an internal matter between the workers and the management as it is the garden's statutory obligation to provide housing. We can only provide compensation for tea bushes that have been damaged by the landslide. If the garden submits a proposal as per the lease agreement (on change of land use pattern), we will definitely look into it."