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1 Aug 2017

West Bengal may cut salary of absentee Hills staff

Jayanta Gupta, Deep Gazmer & Saibal Gupta | TNN |  Aug 1, 2017, DARJEELING/ KOLKATA: The eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation between Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the Bengal government on Monday became a three-cornered standoff, with the government threatening to cut salaries of Hills staffers who have stayed away from office since the indefinite strike began.

This came after the Hills party hit out at electoral ally BJP, less than 24 hours before the crucial Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee (GMCC) meeting in New Delhi that aims to finalize the roadmap for the 47-day-old Gorkhaland agitation. BJP, in turn, claimed Trinamool had been trying to persuade a prominent tribal leader to break ranks with GJM.

GJM had on Sunday issued a 10-day ultimatum to the ruling BJP at the Centre to intervene on its behalf, failing which it threatened to intensify its movement.

In a desperate bid to rein in discordant voices in the GMCC and show who's boss, GJM president Bimal Gurung on Monday chose a two-pronged approach. 

First, he said GMCC had no authority to withdraw the strike, only his party did; he also spoke out against BJP — particularly Darjeeling MP S S Ahluwalia. Often accused of going soft on BJP, this is the first time GJM spoke out against the MP, warning him that public sentiment would turn against him unless he convinced the Centre to lend its weight to the stir in GJM's favour.

Refusing to be browbeaten, the state government on Monday indicated nearly 80% of the 8,700 state government employees working in the Hills will face pay cuts because of their absence owing to the strike. "There are around 8,500 employees in the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) and another 180 employees in the Darjeeling district magistrate's office. Most of the employees will face the consequences. Some of the employees will even suffer a pay cut of up to 55%," said a senior government official.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee left for Siliguri on Monday evening, where she is expected to stay overnight before leaving for an administrative review meeting of Uttar Dinajpur's Chopra, roughly 108km from the epicentre of the raging unrest in Darjeeling.

Sensing the growing anger against them, the state BJP on Monday chose to parade Adivasi Vikas Parishad leader John Barla, claiming Trinamool was instigating Barla to break ranks with GJM and resist their attempts to fan unrest in the foothills. Barla, who by his own admission, played a "role in assisting police" to control the earlier Gorkhaland agitations, alleges Trinamool leaders have been actively courting him to re-enact that role even now, something the Trinamool leadership officially rubbished.

Bimal Gurung sought the Centre's intervention, claiming the situation in the Hills was worse than that in Jammu & Kashmir. "There have been so many deaths, people are on hunger strike and the agitation is continuing," he said. 

"The Centre needs to show its sincerity. We shall wait till 6pm on August 8, after which the agitation will intensify further. Our MP should also remember that he won the seat by promising Gorkhaland. He needs to take the initiative to resolve the crisis. The youth and women are now getting frustrated. If he continues to remain silent, people will start speaking out against him openly in public. This is not desirable."

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