Foreign Affairs

Gorkhaland territorial administration : Delay throws GTA into question

Representatives of the GJM and the Central and West Bengal governments sign the tripartite agreement for the setting up of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, in Sukna on Monday. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish

Hopes were high when the tripartite agreement was signed on July 18,2011 in Sukna–the foothills of Darjeeling ( Photo courtesy:Sushant Patronobish, The Hindu)

NEW DELHI, FEB 18, 2012 –

Hopes were high some seven months ago that stability will return to the hills of Darjeeling when the agitating Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) struck a deal with the West Bengal government and the Centre to form an autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration. However, with delay in the formation of the GTA, it looks as if the old tension is set to haunt the hills again.

GJM has vented its ire against the State government and the Centre for not forming the GTA within six months as envisioned by a tripartite agreement signed on July 18, 2011.

As the six-month deadline (Jan 18) elapsed, GJM has given a new timeframe of March 27 with a warning to re-launch the agitation which could possibly be more difficult to handle. Darjeeling watchers observe that failure to form the GTA as soon as possible could lead to a difficult situation and the ‘unflinching demand for statehood’ may emerge.

It is understandable that the delay in fulfilling the tripartite agreement has made the GJM the most restless. GJM, which has already been under attacks from critics for stepping back from the demand of statehood to a regional set-up, fears that popular sentiments may go against it, threatening its political future, if the agreement is not expeditiously implemented.

Along with the flames of unrest being visible, the blame game has started to surface. Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee has blamed the Centre for the delay in GTA formation. Though the Centre has not made its official version public in this regard, activists in Darjeeling smell a rat over Banerjee’s ‘blame game’ and suspect that GTA has been a victim of increasingly bitter relationship between the two allies—Congress and Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress.

Where is it stuck?

The bone of contention has been the controversy surrounding the territorial jurisdiction of the proposed GTA. If the agreement is to be followed, some areas in the Tarai and Dooars predominated by Nepali speaking people will also come under the GTA. For this purpose, a high-power committee was formed under the chairmanship of retired Justice Shyamal Kumar Sen. The committee, which also comprises members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) from Darjeeling and Dooars, was expected to submit its recommendations by January 31. As it failed to meet the deadline, its mandate has been extended by six months. This extension has raised eyebrows inside the GJM, which thinks that GTA formation would be delayed further as the elections to this proposed administrative set-up could not be held until its territorial jurisdiction is finalised.

A small but strong opposition against the proposed inclusion of some areas of Tarai and Dooars in the GTA is becoming Achilles’ heel for the government to handle. According to Darjeeling-based journalist Sanjay Pradhan, until recently the high-power committee received about 700 complaints opposing the idea of inclusion.

The bloc of seven groups including Aadhibashi Vikas Parishad and Amra Bengali is intensifying opposition, which is being fuelled by the Left front—recently dethroned in West Bengal.

The GJM has demanded 199 constituencies of Tarai, 196 from Dooars and 3 from Siliguri be included into the proposed GTA.

On the one hand, the apprehensions of possible backlash amid opposition from other groups lest constituencies from Tarai and Dooars should be brought under the jurisdiction of GTA along with Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, have become a severe headache for the government. On the contrary, if not complied with the tripartite agreement, unrest in hills will be inevitable as the GJM is not ready to tolerate.

Despite this critical ground situation, the lengthy bureaucratic process is also somehow responsible for the delay in the formation of GTA. The bill regarding the GTA, though passed by the legislative assembly of West Bengal on November 3, 2011, has yet to reach the President’s Office for the final seal. According to reports, the Union Home Ministry is yet to receive feedback from 16 departments directly related to the jurisdiction given to the proposed GTA.

In the backdrop of this delay, feeble hopes of expeditious GTA formation are seen recently after Banerjee announced to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on February 23-24 to discuss crucial issues, including the implementation of the tripartite agreement. This meeting is expected to clear confusions regarding the delay in GTA formation.

This piece originally appeared on Feb 18, 2012 issue of The Kathmandu Post.Here is the link :–delay-throws-gta-into-question/231713.html

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