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10 May 2017

Mirik fights for 'my land'

A Trinamul march as part of election campaign in Mirik. Picture by Passang Yolmo
Vivek Chhetri, TT, Mirik, May 9: Kumar Pradhan is in possession of 20 decimals of land in ward 3 of Mirik municipality and diligently deposits his holding tax with the civic body for the house that stands on his plot. The land, however, does not belong to him officially.
Pradhan, like almost all other hill residents, believe in the idea of a separate state of Gorkhaland but for now, he wants his own land like many in Mirik.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha might have pitched the civic polls as a "Gorkhaland versus Bengal" fight but in Mirik, the debate that is raging is: My Land versus Gorkhaland.
Pradhan said: "Whether it is in Gorkhaland or in Bengal, the land issue has to be solved. Since the land is not registered in our names, we get nothing. Every land transaction is unofficial. We cannot avail ourselves of house loans or even agriculture loans from government. Even to get an electricity connection, one needs a no-objection certification from the tea garden."
Apart from wards 4 and 5, which include the Deosay Dara and Krishnanagar localities in Mirik, the entire land that makes up seven other wards is on lease to Thurbo tea garden.
Mirik has 8,875 voters and land rights might not be a major issue for only 1,799 residents of the two wards.
The state government has already completed a survey on granting land rights for Mirik residents. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had announced the survey while announcing the upgrade of Mirik block to an subdivision on March 30.
Within a month of the announcement, the Trinamul Congress, which was not a force to be reckoned with in Mirik town, is confident of forming the civic board at Mirik.
The land issue has clearly put the Morcha on the backfoot. "We are not opposing the granting of land rights. We are against the intention of the state government which is using all tricks to capture power and erase the Gorkhaland demand," said Phoebe Rai, a GTA Sabha member from Mirik
"If they were sincere in granting land rights, why did they announce the same just when civic election was round the corner? What about land rights to tea garden workers not just in Darjeeling but across north Bengal," added Rai.
The Morcha is still confident that it will win all nine wards in Mirik but so is Trinamul now.
"We (TMC is supporting the GNLF in two wards) should win all nine wards. In fact, a proper contest will only take place in wards 4 and 6. In ward 6, our contest will be with an Independent Vikram Tamang and in ward 4, some problems have cropped up in our organisation recently," said Anil Chhetri, the president of Trinamul (Mirik subdivision).

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