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15 Jul 2017

In twin orders, SC & HC direct Centre to rush forces to Darjeeling

 | Jul 15, 2017, Kolkata/New Delhi: The Supreme Court and the Calcutta high court, in separate orders on Friday, directed the Centre to rush four CRPF companies to the trouble-torn Darjeeling belt. The Calcutta HC order went further, calling the current situation in Darjeeling purely "political", and said the judiciary would have to intervene if "the Centre and the state were not serious" and "if they failed to maintain law and order".

More central forces in Darjeeling has been a key and consistent demand of the Bengal government as it has accused the Centre of fomenting trouble in the district and has struggled to contain the violent agitation for a separate Gorkhaland state.

The Calcutta HC order, which called the current situation "purely political" and took parties to task for not heeding people's plight, also asked the state government to deploy additional forces to rein in the spiralling violence. Several government buildings have been burnt down and hydel power projects shut down as the violence, which started in the second week of June, has claimed several lives.

Senior police officials here said they were yet to study the SC order but added that they would press for eight more CRPF companies as the two orders were given by two separate courts in response to two different petitions.

The strife-torn district now has 11 companies of central paramilitary forces, seven of them being added after the start of the current round of violence to bolster the four companies that have been stationed in Darjeeling since January this year.

HC acting chief justice Nishita Mhatre told additional solicitor-general Kaushik Chanda and state advocate-general Kishore Dutta that what was happening in Darjeeling was a purely "political situation". Political parties paid little heed to the plight of the people, Justice Mhatre said.

Justice Mhatre said, "People are suffering, children are suffering. Schools have been closed. Ration shops are closed. Children are being forced to leave their schools. How will people survive in the Hills? If the Centre and state are not serious..., if they fail to maintain law and order, the court will intervene."

The HC, which received a report from the chief judge of the city sessions court on the pre-trial status of the Madan Tamang murder case, also directed the CBI to file an affidavit by Tuesday before it heard the matter again on Wednesday.

The Supreme Court order, from a bench of justices Dipak Misra, A M Khanwilkar and M M Shanatanagoudar, said the deployment of four more CRPF companies was required to maintain law and order and to remove a blockade from NH-10 connecting Sikkim to Bengal. This order came in response to a plea from the Sikkim government, alleging that the state was suffering because of the agitation as people had blocked the National Highway and supply of food, petrol and other essential items to the state had stopped.

Attorney-general K K Venugopal told the bench that the Calcutta HC, too, had ordered more forces in the state and the Centre was agreeable to providing four more companies of CRPF in addition to the 11 already deployed there.

The HC's order came in response to a petition filed by Ramapada Sarkar, urging for the restoration of normalcy in Darjeeling, and followed state AG Kishore Dutta's argument that eight CRPF companies, withdrawn on January 25 for the Uttar Pradesh polls, were never sent back. Justice Tapabrata Chakraborty, at this point, observed that additional solicitor-general Kaushik Centre had not disputed this fact and had told the acting chief justice that those forces were now deployed to protect Amarnath pilgrims.

Dutta also argued that the central forces deployed in Darjeeling were half of the 14 companies the state had been repeatedly seeking from the Union home ministry since June 10. The state, according to its affidavit submitted in the HC, has opposed a central suggestion to re-deploy central paramilitary forces from the Left wing extremism-hit zones to Darjeeling as it would lead to a collapse of the security grid in these areas.

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