AMID THE familiar medley of bandhs, protests and empty roads in Darjeeling, the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration’s (GTA) petition, moved in protest of West Bengal government’s refusal to transfer administrative power to it, has been taken up by the Supreme Court.
On September 8, the Supreme Court had agreed to examine GTA’s plea challenging the state government’s refusal to transfer administrative power and various subjects to it, in spite of a tripartite agreement that was reached within the state and Union governments in 2011. The petition moved by GTA member Binay Tamang has claimed that the state government’s decision was “impinging upon the fundamental rights of the Gorkha people living in the hill areas of the district of Darjeeling”.
At the heart of the row lies the state government’s refusal to transfer control over key departments — none more important than land and land revenue — to the GTA.
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The bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur had asked senior counsel P P Rao and counsel Shamik Sanjawala — appearing for Tamang — to place before the court the 2011 notification issued by the West Bengal government within two weeks. In the notification, the state government had promised transfer of power in terms of an memorandum of agreement (MoU) reached at the tripartite meeting
While Tamang has since placed the MoU before the court, the bench is likely to hear the case again in November.
The MoU for the creation of GTA was signed on July 18, 2011 at Pintail village near Siliguri in the presence of then Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) leaders. It was signed by state Home Secretary G D Gautama, Union Home Ministry Joint Secretary K K Pathak and GJM general secretary Roshan Giri.
As per the MoU, 59 subjects were to be transferred to the GTA. However, GJM alleges that four key subjects — land and land revenue, information and cultural affairs, PWD and social welfare, including a part of SC and ST development — remains under the control of the state government, allowing the ruling Trinamool Congress to further control its political interest in the hills.
According to the notification, while land and land revenue powers include “allotment, occupation or use, setting apart of land other than land with reserved forest for the purpose of agriculture or grazing or for residential or other non-agricultural purposes to promote interest of the people”, social welfare includes a part of SC/ST development and finance corporation under GTA area. PWD powers, on the other hand, includes “work related to state highways as well as the responsibility discharged by state government for maintenance of national highways within the jurisdiction” of GTA.
“The four departments dictate governance in Darjeeling, as per the needs of the day. In particular, land is a prime concern. Whatever work we want to do, the first step is the need for land. By keeping land under their control, the TMC government effectively keeps all development work under their control. By holding on to this, the Bengal government is furthering its own interest, while systematically breaking and dividing community and politics in the state,” a senior GJM leader said.
The petition has come at a time, when the Darjeeling hills are once again hearing the cry for a separate Gorkhaland. The GJM, though tottering in the hills after a number of senior leaders, including GTA chairman Pradeep Pradhan, joining Trinamool in the recent past — have received a shot in the arm after the successful 12-hour bandh on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, officials said the petition, which alleges that the state government has been reticent in fully transferring the department and subjects mentioned in the MoU and the act, is misleading. A senior home official added: “We are progressing with the matter as in a timely fashion. Of the 59 subjects, 55 have been handed over to GTA.”
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