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12 Jul 2017

HC raps Centre, state for bickering over Darjeeling forces

 | Jul 12, 2017, Kolkata: Exasperated at the continuous bickering over the deployment of central forces in strife-torn Darjeeling, Calcutta high court on Tuesday asked whether people had to suffer because different political parties helmed the Centre and the state. "What is going on? People are suffering and nobody bothers. People will die if supplies are stopped," the HC said, ticking off both for "lack of adequate cooperation".

The HC directed the Centre to explain, in the next two days, why it ignored the state's plea to replace the six companies of SSB and CRPF women battalions deployed in Darjeeling. The HC also asked ADG (law and order) Anuj Sharma to inform it on the quantum of additional forces kept as reserve in the state. CBI, which also came for some sharp observations over its ongoing probe in the Madan Tamang murder case, was also made a party to the ongoing hearings. The HC will take up the case for hearing on Friday.

Advocate general Kishore Dutta during the day told acting Chief Justice Nishita Mhatre and Justice Tapabrata Chakraborty that the Centre and state representatives had met, but there had been no formal response by the Centre on the state's request for replacement forces. The acting chief justice observed then that "Darjeeling continues to be in the position that it was in." Additional solicitor general Kaushik Chanda said it wasn't possible to deploy additional central paramilitary forces (CAF) now, given the situation.

ASG Chanda claimed there were adequate forces, but they were not being properly utilized. To drive home the point, he argued that the state hadn't disclosed its reserve forces.

Attempting to find a common ground, the acting chief justice sought the ASG's opinion on replacing the six companies the state had asked for. Chanda submitted that the Centre had principally not agreed to the request for replacement as "that will bring down the morale of the forces". With the Centre remaining non-committal, the high court directed the MHA's joint secretary (Police- II) to file an affidavit explaining their stand.

The acting CJ said the problem clearly was in the lack of coordination, and not only in the deployment of more forces. Justice Mhatre then suggested that the state should assign senior police officers to ensure hassle-free coordination between agencies. "Why is this lack of coordination? Is it because two political parties are in power at the Centre and the state?" At this, Justice Chakraborty reminded the Centre and state: "People are suffering. People will die if supplies are stopped." "You should work together," he told them. Chanda told the court that a high-level meeting was held on Monday in Delhi chaired by the special secretary (internal security) of the Union ministry of home affairs, with the ADG (law and order) in attendance.

At one point, Justice Mhatre said: "What is the CBI doing? If you do what you are supposed to do, everything will be settled... they could have been brought down." The HC later added CBI as a party to the proceedings. The central agency now has to file a report in HC on its ongoing Madan Tamang murder case probe, in which several top GJM leaders, including president Bimal Gurung, has been implicated.

The ASG told the court that the Army has been deployed in Darjeeling, and that they were liaising with the Ministry of Petroleum to ensure uninterrupted supply of petroleum to the Hills, including Sikkim. AG Dutta claimed before the HC that the Centre was sidestepping core issues. The question, he said, wasn't supplies immediately but the lack of forces. ADG Sharma was also directed by the HC to file the details of the Centre-state meeting held in New Delhi.

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