Anit Thapa, the president of the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha (BGPM), who had been pushed on the back foot by the Opposition on the tea garden land distribution issue, is working to turn the tables on his opponents with support from the state government.
Thapa on Wednesday reached Calcutta to meet Smarki Mahapatra, the secretary of land and land reforms and refugee relief and rehabilitation department.
“I have demanded that the entire land the garden people possess should be granted to them and not just 5 decimals of land. I will not rest till my people in the tea gardens get their rights. This is my promise. Have faith in me, I will ensure land rights,” said Thapa after the meeting.
Thapa’s statement matches the Opposition parties' stand in the hills.
The BGPM had supported the distribution of homestead pattas up to 5 decimals to tea garden residents when the notification was issued on August 1.
However, with the Opposition primarily demanding that tea garden residents should get rights to the entire land in possession of hill residents, Thapa went on the back foot once he realised that many hill people were siding with the Opposition.
Thapa, also the chief executive of Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), then requested the hill district magistrates not to conduct a survey and wrote a letter to chief secretary H.K. Dwivedi, requesting the granting of land rights over the entire area the workers possess.
“Thapa is clearly turning the tables on the Opposition and elbowing his way out of a tight spot with support from the state government,” said an observer.
On Tuesday, the state government decided to halt all work related to the distribution of land in the GTA, a day after Thapa's request to the chief secretary.
“The order to halt the survey has provided some relief to Thapa,” added the observer.
On Wednesday evening, the state government issued a memorandum on the composition of district-level selection and monitoring committees to engage anganwadi workers and helpers by including the GTA in the hill areas.
The GTA principal secretary is the chairperson and the district magistrates of Darjeeling and Kalimpong are vice-chairpersons of the committee. The committee member for Darjeeling includes L.B. Rai, the Trinamul leader and chairman of Mirik municipality. Ruden Sada Lepcha, BGPM MLA from Kalimpong, is the member for Kalimpong.
A week back, the Bengal government appointed the GTA principal secretary as the chairman of the district level selection committee for recruitment in hill panchayats, giving the hill body some control over the rural bodies. Both developments are expected to help Thapa, sources said.