Even as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that the government would take a “tough stand” to deal with the agitators in Darjeeling, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) activists reportedly torched an under-construction ITI building at Mungpoo which is 33 km from Darjeeling. After yesterday’s violent protests in Darjeeling against the “forced imposition of Bengali language”, a 12-hour strike is being observed in the hills. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee described the strike as “illegal” and said “law will take its own course” against the agitators.
“The government has compromised a lot and the people of hills have endured a lot. The bandh is illegal and we will take legal action against those who took part in it. Those who are setting public properties on fire will not go scot-free. The government will not compromise with those who put the lives of tourists in danger by organising violent protests and cause disruption to the common man by creating unrest. The government is very tough. Our higher ranked officers have already reached Siliguri and they will take care of the law and order situation. Nobody is above the law,” Banerjee said after holding an emergency meeting at Richmond Hill. At the instruction of the Chief Minister, three senior IPS officers are on their way to Darjeeling.
The Chief Minister asserted that she will not leave the hill station unless the situation became normal. “I have no immediate plans to leave. I will leave once everything is settled,” Banerjee said. She said yesterday’s violence in Darjeeling was “unfortunate” and should be condemned. The strike which was called by GJM paralysed life in Darjeeling. Most of the shops and markets were closed and tourists were seen making their way to government bus stands to return to the plain.
In an attempt to give assurance to the tourists, Banerjee was seen walking in the streets in Darjeeling on Friday morning and asking shop-owners to open their establishments. The state government has started government bus services from Siliguri and Bagdogra to Darjeeling to bring back the stranded tourists. The buses will be available at two-hour intervals and tourists will avail them at free of cost. “Three of four people are doing all these. I will tell the tourists not to worry because the government is with them. We will give them full-cooperation. We have already started bus services at free of cost for them to return to Bagdogra or Siliguri. I have been roaming around the area since morning to observe the situation. I have seen the manner in which the vehicles have been set on fire. There was no issue or any incident. We want peace and development in the hills. The Army has already started route march. The police are also taking action in a peaceful manner. Law will take its own course,” she said while walking in the streets in the morning.
Lashing out at GJM leadership for organising yesterday’s protests, the Chief Minister said, “The term of GTA is coming to an end. After failing to do any development in the hills, they are causing disruption and torturing the people. Lakhs of tourists come here and without them the people of the hills will lose their business. I have no idea what kind of movement they are organising which is forcing the tourists away from here. They are driving away ‘Lakshmi’ (Goddess of wealth) from the hills. We are with the brothers and sisters of the hills and will give them full help and ask them not to give support to GJM chief Bimal Gurung,” Banerjee said.
Later, after holding the emergency meeting, Banerjee announced compensation for policemen who were injured in yesterday’s violence. “One of the policemen was seriously injured. He has received injuries in one of his eyes. We have decided to airlift him from here to Kolkata for his treatment. We will give Rs 1 lakh to his family for the treatment. If needed, we will send him to Singapore for treatment. Rs 25,000 each will be given to other policemen who were similarly injured on Thursday. Rs 20,000 each will be provided to other injured,” Banerjee said.
The state government has also set up two help desks and two helpline numbers for tourists and has also extended its cooperation to foreign tourists. “Help desks will be set up at Tenzing Norgay Central Bus Stand and at Darjeeling Mall. We want the people of the hills to be at peace and let prosperity prevail…we want a united West Bengal and we want to everyone to stay together,” she said.
Later, Banerjee went to the local hospital and visited the injured policemen. After visiting the injured police personnel, the Chief Minister met some local people and asked them to not worry. She was seen making announcements to the people through a microphone while travelling in a car. “Do not worry. We are with you,” Banerjee announced on the mike.
Following the Chief Minister’s announcement, police took control of the Bhanu Bhawan from where the agitation had begun yesterday. The Army personnel deployed in the area also conducted route march and hourly patrolling. Last night, the government filed an FIR under non- bailable sections at Darjeeling Sadar Police Station against Gurung and GJM general secretary Roshan Giri.
Tourists were seen taking government buses to return to the plain. “This was unexpected. We had come here on a vacation. Now it has turned into a nightmare. We could not enjoy our stay here and now are forced to return,” said a tourist. Some tourists were also seen cooking food on road while waiting for transport. Till noon, total 3906 passengers came to Bagdogra airport from Darjeeling hills. Some of the tourists had to pay exorbitant fares to arrange private vehicles. Meanwhile, local channels were blacked out in Darjeeling.
Meanwhile, the government also issued circular informing that salary will be deducted for one day if any government official fail to turn up for duty in Darjeeling. “All Employees of all Government Offices and Institutions receiving grants from Government including Teachers of Governemnt aided Schools and Colleges of the hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling district are hereby informed that who remain absent from work tomorrow will be treated Dies-Non for the day and the salary will be deducted. Attendance report from concerned offices/institutions may be sent by 11 am through proper channel. Extra transport is being arranged and will be plying tomorrow. Transport associations are being informed by the Regional Transport Authority for maintaining usual plying of vehicles. For vehicles which follow strike call, RTA may consider cancellation of permit. There is no cause for fear,” read the circular issued by DM of Darjeeling.
Meanwhile, cracking the whip, the state government formed a six-member committee which would be headed by the deputy commissioner of state finance department to carry out the special audit of funds received by GTA in last five years. Banerjee had earlier announced that a special audit of funds received by GTA would be conducted and warned action if any discrepancies were found. Banerjee has said that action will be taken against GTA members and even the Chairman of GTA will not be spared. On Friday, the government formed the six-member committee which has been asked to submit its report within two weeks.
Under pressure from the government, GJM leadership announced that it would hold a central committee meeting of the party on Saturday afternoon in Darjeeling to plan its future course of action. GJM General Secretary Roshan Giri said they were also arranging private vehicles and buses for tourists to help them return to the plain. “We are also making transport arrangements for the tourists. We are making efforts to make sure they reach safely to their houses. We are helping them because the strike was called at the eleventh hour. We will decide out next move in tomorrow’s meeting,” Giri said.
Meanwhile, fresh agitation began in Darjeeling hills after GJM supporters torched an under-construction ITI Bhaban at Mungpoo near Darjeeling. As the work at the site was suspended due to the strike, no one was injured. However the establishment was gutted in fire. At Kurseong, GJM activists stopped a government bus, which was taking passengers to the plain from Darjeeling, and started a demonstration. With the intervention of Army personnel, the demonstration was lifted and the bus was allowed to move. However, no other reports of violence were received from Darjeeling till the filing of this report.
Meanwhile, a PIL was filed at Calcutta High Court demanding intervention of the state government to end the unrest in Darjeeling hills. The court will hear the PIL in next week.