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25 Jun 2017

Don't leave hills without permisson: Govt to staff - Alert missive before long weekend

Policemen in riot gear stand guard at the motor stand in Darjeeling during a statehood rally on Saturday. Picture by Passang Yolmo
KINSUK BASU, TT, Darjeeling, June 24: The Bengal government has told its officials not to leave the Darjeeling hills without written permission on off days till July 5 to ensure that all department heads are at hand with their teams in case of any untoward incident.
Many government employees posted in Darjeeling were planning to go to the plains during the extended weekend, clubbing their off days with the Id holiday early next week.
The statehood agitation has been continuing since June 8 and has shown no signs of abetting with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha calling an indefinite strike and refusing to hold talks with the Bengal government.
Many officials said they were planning to visit their families or go to the plains on other business and also to "de-stress" because of the pressure of working during the protracted unrest.
All shops are closed because of the strike, straining food supply, and there are no Internet and cable TV connections.
Darjeeling district magistrate Joyoshi Dasgupta issued a notification today saying no official should leave his or her station till July 5 without written permission from her and without furnishing a valid reason.
Top district officials said there was no way of ensuring that all employees posted in the hills stayed put on their off days but if someone was found unavailable when called to work, "action" could be taken.
"The action could vary. But first, a showcause notice could be issued. If the answer is not satisfactory, departmental proceedings could be initiated," an official said. "I am sure no one would like to risk such action."
There are around 7,500 government employees in the hills.
Officials of several departments that have their offices in the Darjeeling district magistrate's office building said they had gone to Chowk Bazar today to check when the first North Bengal State Transport Corporation bus left Darjeeling in the morning.
A few others had booked SUVs to leave in groups. Some SUVs that ferried school children to Siliguri on Thursday during the breather provided by the Morcha are still operating in the hills with "School Duty" stickers.
"I have been posted in Darjeeling for almost two years now. Since the latest round of the Gorkhaland movement began, my family members in Siliguri are extremely worried," an excise department official said. "I stay in a paying guest accommodation. I thought this would be the best time to visit my family. But then we received this order."
Several officials said on the condition of anonymity that the Darjeeling administration remained on tenterhooks because of the Morcha's announcement that there would be no relaxation in the indefinite strike.
"In case there is another flare-up, the state government wants to counter it with its full strength," a police officer in Darjeeling said.
"The police have been displaying extreme patience in handling rallies (by statehood protesters) for the past few days. We don't want the situation to spiral out of control," he added.
Departments such as health, disaster management and fire and emergency services have been asked to be prepared for an exigency.
Food and supplies officials have been told to ensure that essential supplies reach all ration shops. The police have been asked to escort food inspectors.
"It has been raining in the hills for the past few days. If there are landslides, we have to be ready to handle the situation," a disaster management department official said.

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