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30 May 2018

Balancing act in hills Mamata supports GTA and boards for development

Mamata at the public meeting near Kalimpong on Tuesday
Vivek Chhetri, TT, May 30, 2018: Kalimpong: The Bengal chief minister said on Tuesday that she was willing to support any development body that worked for the betterment of the Darjeeling hills - a perfect balancing act by her between the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration and 15 boards created for various communities in the hills.

The statement was a subtle message from the chief minister that she was keeping all options open in the hills.

Earlier, certain quarters had opined that Mamata might focus on the GTA to push the growth of the hills and thereby, cement her base in Darjeeling. Such a theory arose as the 15 development boards had failed to stand by the Bengal government when the statehood agitation convulsed the hills last year.

The chairpersons of two boards for Khas and Rai had quit, while many members of other boards tendered their resignations during the movement.

"Whichever board does better work (among the 15), we will support them more. If the GTA does better work, we will support them more," Mamata told a public meeting at Rolandshay Park, about 5km from here, on Tuesday.

Members of various development boards, GTA chief Binay Tamang and GNLF head Mann Ghisingh were on the dais along with Mamata.

The chief minister announced a package of Rs 96 crore for the 15 boards and added that she had already provided Rs 705.58 crore to the GTA headed by Tamang. He was appointed the chairperson of the GTA's board of administrators in September last year.#

Mamata was ready with the figures of amounts that were provided to the Bimal Gurung-led GTA, too. "The earlier board was also given Rs 3,804.87 crore. The new board has been granted Rs 705.58 crore," the chief minister said, probably trying to drive home that she was impartial all along but Gurung had failed on the development front.

However, the takeaway from her speech was the support for any camp that performs better.

"Mamata's statement is a clear indication that she wants to keep all different development bodies in the hills on their toes and is not yet ready to blindly support just one camp," said an observer.

The chief minister justified the nomination of Tamang as the head of the GTA. "The earlier board had resigned. Development works came to a standstill; we have formed a new board as the situation was not conducive to elections."

She sent a subtle warning to the boards and the GTA, asking them to be careful about finances. "We want all the boards and the GTA to work well. Do good audit. One needs to keep the financial part right," said Mamata.

There have been allegations of financial impropriety in some development boards.

The chief minister brought up last year's agitation and stressed that "whatever has happened has happened". "If, after five-seven years, some leaders choose to close (everything) for four-five-eight months, people will be inconvenienced, development work will be stalled," she added

"If there has been some mistake from my end, I have come to rectify," she said in an attempt to reach out to the hill people.

The chief minister also urged the hill people to stand on their own feet with dignity.

"I want to see Darjeeling, Kalimpong move forward in your own right, not by seeking alms. Stand on your own feet and show the path to Bengal, rest of India," she said probably aware that hill politics is peppered with sentiments and emotions.

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