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8 Feb 2017

Funds for civic bodies irk Morcha

Vivek Chhetri and Avijit Sinha, TT, Darjeeling, Feb. 7: The state government has decided to pump funds into four hill municipalities, currently run by administrators, through north Bengal development department, prompting the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha to allege that the Trinamul dispensation is virtually trying to buy votes using public money.
The municipalities of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and Mirik were under the control of the Morcha and their terms ended in December.
In the absence of elected representatives, the state government appointed administrators to run the four civic bodies. Its not clear when elections to the hill civic bodies will be held.
Rabindranath Ghosh, the north Bengal development department minister, today said: "We will surely provide funds to the hills on the basis of demands made by the people. The same stands true for four municipalities in the hills."
Ghosh didn't, however, specify the amount.
Roshan Giri, the general secretary of the Morcha, said: "Soon after the terms of the elected bodies had come to an end, we demanded elections. The state government refused to hold elections and now, its pumping funds and virtually trying to buy the hill votes for Trinamul."
Former chairpersons of the hill municipalities said they had never received funds from the north Bengal development department when the Morcha was in power.
"During one of the visits of chief minister Mamata Banerjee to the hills, we were directed to approach the north Bengal development department for funds. We did approach the department but we never received funds," Samirdeep Blone, the former Morcha chairman of the Kurseong municipality, told The Telegraph.
When Mamata had purportedly directed Blone to seeks the funds from the north Bengal department, relations between the Morcha and the chief minister were cordial. However, for most part of the five-year terms of the Morcha boards, the relations were sour.
M.K. Zimba, the former Morcha vice-chairman of Mirik municipality, too, echoed Blone. "We had also sought funds from the north Bengal development department for construction of a bus stand. But the funds were not sanctioned when we were at the helm," said Zimba.
Former Darjeeling municipal chairman Amar Singh Rai said he could not recollect any instance of the north Bengal development department providing funds to the civic body when the Morcha was at the helm.
Observers say this is not the first case of the Mamata government pumping funds into civic bodies run by administrators.
"Departments like municipal affairs & urban development and north Bengal development had provided funds to the Siliguri Municipal Corporation between August 2014 and March 2015 when it was run by a board of administrators. Sophisticated machineries and vehicles for better conservancy services were bought and funds were paid for development of roads and other infrastructure in the town. It would not be surprising if the party takes same strategy in the four hill towns ahead of civic polls," said an observer.
The inflow of funds didn't translate into electoral gains for Trinamul in Siliguri as the Left Front swept the polls.

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