A demand for regularisation of jobs for the over 4,000 contractual employees of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) has been revived and is gathering steam, reflecting how issues come up in circles in the hills.
The employees were recruited since 1988 to the erstwhile Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. Since then, powers have shifted from the Gorkha National Liberation Front to Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (Bimal Gurung camp) and now to the Morcha (Binay Tamang group). So has the employees’ union.
The 4200-odd contractual employees make up most of the GTA staff.
“We had a meeting with Binay Tamang and he assured us that he will take up the issue. We are confident he will fulfil our demand as we believe our problem can be solved only by political will,” said D.P. Khawash, general secretary of the United Employees Association.
The association was formed after 2017 and replaced the Janmukti Astai Karmachari Sangatan (JAKS) of the then Gurung-led Morcha.
The association had initially said it would remain “apolitical” but over the past year, it has aligned with the Tamang camp.
“Our papers are under process. The GTA has started correspondence with the hill affairs department,” said Pravin Chhetri, general secretary, Kalimpong district unit of the association.
The issue had peaked in 2009. On September 17, 2009, following a hunger strike by them, the state government had given a written assurance to the JAKS on regularisation.
The fast was lifted following the assurance. However, the government backtracked and said the promise had been given under duress. The employees had also received a favourable ruling from Calcutta High Court in 2015.
“We are confident now as the new dispensation has shown political will and solved the issue of teachers’ recruitment,” said Khawash.
Over the years, the employees’ status has changed from contractual to “pay-band” workers. Their salaries have more than doubled and on retirement, the employees are given a one-time grant. Medical schemes have been introduced for them.
Arjun Rai, president of the association, said: “We want all to be regularised by 2021 and appeal to all employees to register with us or else they should not blame us if they are left behind as this issue is about political will.”