TWO OFFICES were torched on Monday, the first day of the shutdown of government establishments called by Gorkha Janmukti Morcha in the hills over its demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland. The Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal claimed that attendance in government and Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) offices was “normal”.
Claiming that it showed restraint in implementing the shutdown, GJM general secretary Roshan Giri told reporters: “If we wanted, we could have brought thousands of workers to the streets and shut down government offices. We should show restraint. We want the Centre to intervene immediately (on Gorkhaland). Our president (Bimal Gurung) has already written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.”
“We appealed to the employees not to go to office. But the government is forcing them (to attend office) through tough circulars,” he said. The state government has ordered its employees and those of institutions receiving grants-in-aid from it to attend office during the shutdown, warning them of disciplinary action and loss in pay if they don’t. “We did not set fire to any office. They (government) are trying to malign us,” claimed Giri.
The GJM has exempted schools, colleges, transport, hotels and shops from the shutdown. The GJM was conspicuous by its absence near the District Magistrate’s office in Darjeeling — the largest government office complex in the hills. A huge contingent of policemen had cordoned off the compound since morning.
State Tourism Minister Gautam Deb claimed that attendance in government and GTA offices was “normal” in Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Mirik. “The people have defied GJM’s diktat and attended office. We hope good sense will prevail on the GJM leadership,” he told PTI.Earlier in the day, the BDO office at Bijanbari was set on fire. By afternoon, the office of the sub-assistant engineer of PWD on Lebong Cart Road was also set ablaze and stones thrown at the office of the state electricity board at Sonada. Later, four persons were arrested in connection with the Bijanbari incident, including elected GTA member and GJM leader Satish Pokhrel. GJM workers also protested in front of government offices in Kalimpong and Kurseong.
Besides policemen, Army personnel were also seen patrolling the streets in Darjeeling, Kurseong, Mirik, Kalimpong and other areas. “The situation is peaceful here. Everything is normal. Attendance in schools is also normal. We have taken all precautionary measures to check any untoward incident,” District Magistrate Joyoshi Dasgupta told PTI. Maintaining that Army was present in the hills as a “back-up”, she said police pickets and barricades were placed in front of government and GTA offices while RAF and a sizeable number of women police personnel were also deployed.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, speaking at a rally in Bhangar near Kolkata, said: “They tried to threaten me and stop me from visiting the hills. But I don’t care and I went there. What can they do? Throw a few bombs and then run away. People in the hills do not support violence.”The GJM extended its support to Tuesday’s bandh call issued by a joint forum of tea garden workers, demanding minimum wage. “Tea gardens workers are not paid adequately. We will support the bandh,” said Giri.