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17 Jun 2017

Strike & arson continue in hills... High Court declared bandh illegal... Askes state to assess damage due to bandh

TNN, 16 June 2017, Kolkata/Darjeeling: The Calcutta high court on Friday declared Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's call for an indefinite Darjeeling bandh illegal, prompting the party to switch to track-two diplomacy and knock on Raj Bhavan's doors for a tripartite meeting even as its cadres continued with their belligerence in the Hills.

Acting Chief Justice Nishita Mhatre passed the order on Friday, directing the Bengal government to ensure free movement in the Hills and provide adequate protection to tourists, students and Hills residents. She also asked the state to assess the quantum of damage to public property from the start of GJM's lock-down on June 9 and submit a report by June-end. The damage during the 2013 GJM stir was estimated at Rs 69 crore.

The court directed petitioner Ramaprasad Sarkar to serve notices to GJM leaders Bimal Gurung and Roshan Giri.

The HC order had an immediate fallout as three GJM MLAs — Amar Rai, Sarita Rai and Rohit Sharma — approached Raj Bhavan, seeking a tripartite meeting with the Centre and the state.

In the Hills, however, there was little evidence of any attempt at conciliation. The shutdown was near-total and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway suspended operations indefinitely following the arson at Gayabari station. There was no violence in Darjeeling proper as GJM supporters also flexed muscles downhill in Kalimpong, Bijanbari, Mirik and Birpara in the Dooars. But GJM leaders denied their supporters were involved in arson.

The GJM women's wing staged a demonstration outside party president Bimal Gurung's house and office in Patlewas, five km away, where police had carried out a raid on Thursday. Slogan-shouting women tried to march towards the party's headquarters in Singmari but were stopped by a CRPF contingent.

Reports of violence continued from late Thursday. The Gayabari incident was followed by suspected GJM supporters torching a primary health centre and bill payment office of the Lodhoma-Rimbick hydel power project, nearly 70 km from Darjeeling. In Mirik, which was declared a new sub-division recently by CM Mamata Banerjee, the Dora-I gram panchayat office was set ablaze.

GJM supporters also tried to extend their outreach to the Terai and the Dooars regions. GJM supporters on Friday mobbed the Birpara police station in Dooars, following a secret meeting held at Jaigaon along the Indo-Bhutan border, sending alarm bells ringing at the neighbouring police stations of Chamurchi and Banarhat.

The Centre and state governments stepped up the pressure on the GJM, with two columns of Army taking up position in front of the GJM party headquarters in Singmari, where GJM supporters had clashed with police on Thursday.

Nothing, however, could bring life back to the Queen of the Hills. There was hardly any transport at the Chowrasta taxi stand, adding to the woes of students who came for the North Bengal University's bachelors' examinations.

Police said they had tried to convince shopowners and other traders to open their establishments, but the latter said they were afraid.

Meanwhile, Chhattisgarh chief minister and BJP leader Raman Singh visited West Midnapore on Friday and said the Bengal government could sort out the impasse in the Hills through dialogue. "People in the Hills, or those leading the agitation, may have some reasons for their anguish. The state government can redress the grievances by inviting them to talks," said Singh.

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