Leaders raise pitch for panchayat polls in hills
Hill leaders are raising the pitch for panchayat elections in the region, a demand which could smoothen the path for the state government to hold the rural polls for the first time in two decades.
Anit Thapa, the president of the Bharatiya Gorkha Prajatantrik Morcha, on Wednesday said hill leaders and not the Centre or the state government, should be blamed for the impasse.
“Panchayat elections, whether to onetier, two or three, should be held immediately in the hills. These elections could not be held in the past because our leaders wanted to control everything. We should not blame the state or the Centre for this impasse,” he said at Rimbick while addressing the first of the 45planned public meetings of the new party.
In 1993, the Constitution was amended to put in place a twotier panchayat system in the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) areas, unlike the threetier system in the rest of Bengal. The three tiers are gram panchayat, panchayat samiti and zilla parishad.
However, in 2000, elections were held only to gram panchayats and many believe the then GNLF leader Subash Ghisingh did not want elections to panchayat samitis as he believed that its powers would overlap with the then existing DGHC.
After 2000, elections to even the 112 gram panchayats have not been held even though Bimal Gurungled Gorkha Janmukti Morcha had agreed on a three tier panchayat system when the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration memorandum of agreement was signed in 2011.
For the threetier panchayat polls to be held in the hills, the Constitution has to be amended, an issue the BJP led government at the Centre has not addressed. To complicate matters, the Siliguri Mahukama Parishad was formed in 1993 for the rural areas of the Siliguri subdivision of Darjeeling district.
The SMP functions like the zilla parishad, the highest tier of the rural administrative system. The Constitution has provisions for one zilla parishad in one district.
However, many hill leaders, for the moment, do not want to get into any further complications.
Along with Thapa, who batted for elections to any tier, gram panchayat, panchayat samiti or zilla parishad, other leaders like Ajoy Edwards and Binay Tamang have also taken a similar stand.
Edwards on Tuesday said in his Facebook post: “Unless the weaker people of our society are empowered, our society will remain weak. Panchayat system must be revived.”
Of late, hundreds of supporters of not only the GNLF but also the Morcha and the Jan Andolan Party (JAP) |are extending support to Edwards who is preparing groundwork to float a new political party.
Binay Tamang, who has also dropped broad hints of floating a new party, has also demanded elections to two tiers of panchayat, circumventing the three tier issue.
In 2016, the Darjeeling district magistrate had held an all party meeting to apprise the parties of the state election commissioner’s directive to delimit gram panchayats and panchayat samity seats in the hills.
However, with hill parties divided in their opinion, the process could not be initiated.
“This time, some consensus on the need to hold rural elections irrespective of the tier is evolving in the hills and this could help the state government make up its mind,” said a hill observer.