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6 Aug 2017

Morcha leader held for Day One clashes

Lama after his arrest. (Passang Yolmo)
TT, Siliguri, Aug. 5: Norbu G. Lama, a former Gorkhaland Territorial Administration member, was arrested from Siliguri's outskirts last night in connection with the June 8 violence in Darjeeling that heralded the ongoing Gorkhaland agitation.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha leader is the second former GTA member held in connection with the clashes, between Morcha supporters and police, which had coincided with a cabinet meeting Mamata Banerjee was holding at the Darjeeling Raj Bhavan.
Lama's arrest, by a joint team from the CID and Siliguri Metropolitan Police, suggests the state government is not willing to compromise with the Morcha leadership.
Officers alleged that on June 8, Lama was at Gorkha Rangmanch Bhawan, close to the Raj Bhavan, and had orchestrated the attack on police and administrative officials.
They said Lama's stature as a former GTA member made him one of the Morcha's topmost leaders. He has also been a Morcha spokesperson.
"We were looking for him. He had come to Siliguri on some errand and was caught," a police source said. "A case had been filed at Darjeeling Sadar police station after the June 8 violence."
The situation in the hills had worsened after the violence, sparked ostensibly by suspicion that the Bengali language would be imposed on the hills' schoolchildren despite Mamata's assurances that it wouldn't. The Morcha had called an indefinite strike from June 15.
Scores of government and private properties have been vandalised or torched across the hills during the agitation, with the police mainly blaming Morcha workers.
"With state ministers asserting the law would take its course, the government agencies have started making moves," an observer said.
On June 12, the police had arrested Satish Pokhrel, another former GTA member (from the Relling-Kaijaley constituency) for alleged involvement in arson at Bijanbari.
"Norbu G. Lama was produced at the additional chief judicial magistrate's court here today. The court ordered police custody for seven days," assistant public prosecutor Sudip Roy Basunia said.
"There are several charges against him - attacking government officials, using illegal arms, instigating violence, intimidating people."
Morcha leaders protested the arrest and accused the state government of administrative repression.
"Norbu G. Lama is one of the prominent leaders of our party. We don't believe that he is involved in any unruly activity," a senior Morcha politician based in the Terai said.
"He has been framed. The state is using its machineries to mount pressure on us but we will continue with our statehood movement."
A group of Morcha youth supporters today headed towards the hills from Sukna -around 10km from here - on foot, carrying food grains for residents.
Suren Pradhan, a Morcha activist based in Sukna, cited the food grain shortage in the hills because of the agitation. "So, we are carrying grains from here to Darjeeling to express solidarity with the people of the hills," he said.

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