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15 Feb 2017

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee warns against unrest in Hills

Saibal Sen | TNN | Feb 15, 2017, KALIMPONG: If identity politics has defined the Hills narrative for the last four and a half decades, chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday used the formation of Kalimpong district to challenge the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha's primacy in the region. "I will not tolerate any attempt to start fresh unrest in the Hills," warned Mamata at a function where Bengal's 21st district came into being with Darjeeling DM Anurag Srivastava reading out a notification, signed by chief secretary Basudeb Banerjee, at 2:11pm.

Even as GJM's Kalimpong MLA, Sarita Rai, shared the dais with Mamata, her stoic face not betraying any emotion, the chief minister appeared confident that her development agenda in the Hills would translate into a groundswell of support from the people of the area. Mamata had earlier indicated holding elections to the four municipalities-Kalimpong, Kurseong, Darjeeling and Mirik-followed by the all-important GTA polls in April-May.
Overlapping administrative control will mark the new Kalimpong district. The GTA as well as the Kalimpong Municipality will continue to play their roles but it will be imperative for the new district to have a three-tier administrative structure, culminating in a zilla parishad. The ambiguities could be a deliberate move to ensure the GJM does not have a complete hold on Kalimpong, the unique ethnicity and demography of which had ostensibly been overshadowed by Darjeeling for the past century-and-a-half.

"Do not stoke embers," cautioned Mamata, without naming GJM or its president, Bimal Gurung. "Those who set the fire do not realize they end up burning themselves and their people. Unable to combat me politically, they are now fanning unrest. Who isn't proud of his/her identity? The Lepchas and Tamangs all have a glorious past. But humane persons don't think only of themselves but of others too." The chief minister has already convened a meeting with all the development boards on Thursday to draw up the road map ahead.

"The GTA has power. The municipalities too have it. I do not have a single elected representative. But I felt I needed to provide some extra support and hence, the formation of 15 development boards. They are working towards better housing and drinking water facilities. I may not have any (elected) representative but you have showered me with love. It is your spirit and affection that makes me hopeful," she addressed the audience at Mela Ground, packed and many in a celebratory mood.

"When I started visiting Darjeeling (after 2011), I knew I had to develop it. But Kalimpong, Kurseong and Mirik remained neglected. I believe Kalimpong can turn into an education hub. IT industry can get a fillip here," she said. "We have rebuilt the forest guesthouse at Takdah that was once burnt down. It was razed again but we rebuilt it once more. I have been to Kalimpong enough times to realize drinking water is scarce here. It needs nine lakh million gallons of drinking water. The state's PHE department now supplies 6.5 lakh million gallons. Today, I announce a Rs 50-crore drinking water project for Kalimpong." Mamata said sanctioned Rs 220 crore for development from Sevoke to Sikkim.

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