Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Draft MoU on Darjeeling


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THE draft memorandum of understanding signed last week between the West Bengal government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) which has been sent to the Centre has renamed the administrative body for the Darjeeling hills as the ‘Gorkhaland Territorial Administration’. The renaming indicates give and take. The GJM is gung ho about the inclusion of the word Gorkhaland. The West Bengal government maintains that it is just a name. The agreement has already achieved a lot. It marks the end of the governance vacuum in the hills since the dissolution of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council three years ago. The proposed new administration will have the power to collect levy from the tea gardens and appoint junior government staff. But it will not be empowered to legislate or collect taxes. The territorial jurisdiction has been referred to a joint verification committee. The position of the state government is a bit uncertain. It is good that the new body and the West Bengal government are expected to adopt a comprehensive development programme laying stress on infrastructure and the rejuvenation of the tea industry.

But it may be seen as the thin end of the wedge. There is an implicit recognition of duality in urging joint action. Does it mean that the Hill Administration will be largely outside the purview of the state government? The GJM has temporarily decided not to emphasise the demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland but has not dropped it. At present there is peace in the hills which promotes development. It may be argued that the state government has made the GJM get off the high horse. The Morcha has also decided to desist from periodic violence. However, Jyoti Basu’s accord with Subhas Ghising in 1988 brought similar relief, only to be fractured by Darjeeling Nepalis soon thereafter. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee would be well advised to make sure that the interests of Bengalis are not hurt to appease the GJM.


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